Gil Steil Associates

Whole System Engagement


Our Viewpoint

Governments teetering; societies unwinding; water poised to be a more valuable commodity than oil; massive transfers of wealth to the Middle East and China. Our world has become a turbulent environment, where multiple simultaneous changes are occurring at breathtaking speed. This is now a commonplace understanding - something few today would argue.

But we have been living in a turbulent environment for only a few years, and are only at the early stages of adapting. Much of how we approach our work and our lives continues to be based on what worked in a pre-turbulent environment. Back then, very important changes occurred, but they came one or two at a time. Organizations and communities needed only a few gatekeepers to keep in touch with what was going on outside. General managers could be trained for senior positions by rotating them through jobs in all corporate functions, under the assumption that what they learned in Finance or Marketing would still be relevant when they became Chief Operating Officer. Small groups of executives could do strategic planning. A few senior officials from two companies undergoing a merger could decide how to slim the combined organization. Communities could plan for infrastructure without asking deep questions about the changing values of residents. Out of inertia we still do all these things, but their effectiveness isn't what it once was.

We don't know all the answers to the problem of revising our ways of doing things to fit our times, but we know some of them!

We know that when the environment is turbulent, an organization or community ignores what is happening outside its boundaries at its peril.

We know that in times of rapid change, no one person or small group has enough current information to make quality strategic - or even tactical - decisions. We know that our times call for much broader levels of participation. And we know that involving a much larger number of people in the process of strategy making and change need not take longer. Indeed, we have found that the time to implementation is shorter.

We know that scientists studying human interaction have not been asleep for the past 60 years, and that the fruits of their work are relevant to our adaptation to environmental turbulence. We know that whole system temporary planning communities can be convened for a few days or a few hours where the normal rules of debate and discourse can be suspended in favor of serious and open dialog, decision making, and action planning.

We know that hierarchical, control-oriented frameworks are present in nearly all organizations, and are not going away any time soon. We know that any strategic planning or organization redesign process must be married to these existing frameworks.

We know that programs of reengineering, total quality, and customer satisfaction need to be beholden to a broader strategy creation process that involves a critical mass of informed people within the community or organization.

We know that the organizing principles of a community or enterprise determine how that community or enterprise responds to external changes. We know that many organizations fail to adapt, others adapt passively, and some adapt actively. We know that active adaptation is needed to tame the turmoil.

We know that participation breeds commitment.

We know that strategy making and organization redesign are iterative processes, not linear ones.

We know that the basic principles and skills of leading strategic planning and change processes with high levels of participation can be taught and learned. We've learned much over the past decade, and taught many leaders and consultants.

Can we learn from you, teach you what we know, co-create the future with you?

Let's find out!