Growing Adaptive Organizations

Step A3: System Two, Stability and conflict resolution


To identify those parts of the System-in-Focus that ensure that the Opera­tional units interact in a stable manner.


Find the tasks which cannot be executed locally by the Systems 1.

Do not underestimate this step. A strong System 2 is one of the most effective ways to absorb variety.


A3.1 Review your Operational elements

Look at your list of Operational elements aka Systems 1.

Note that you look at interactions, did you miss a System 1? Did you find some artifacts that are not really System 1s?

A3.2 Identify potential conflict

Think about any conflict of interest or instabilities, (or oscillations) which may occur as the Operational elements interact. How are these conflicting interests resolved? List the instabilities and the ways that they are dealt with.

Specifically look at common environment components, e.g. common customers and dependencies in the operation, e.g. common resources or ways of work which need to be harmonized.

A3.3 Look for elements of System 2

Find elements that are designed for horizontal coordination.

These might be

  • Artifacts, e.g. documents where common procedures are defined
  • Technical artifacts. In software development, this will include the version control system.
  • Roles and people, e.g. the coordinating responsibility of a System Architect 
  • Meetings, e.g. a Scrum-of-Scrums meeting

The same element can occur in more than one subsystem. After all, we are concerned with information flow, not the organization diagram. It helps to be more specific, e.g. „System Architect (align interfaces)“


Why think about stability?

Without exception, all systems with interactive parts, regardless of their nature, need to take actions to remain stable. What stability means is not so simple as it appears at first glance.

Anyone who’s had the misfortune of trying to ride a bicycle with a buckled wheel down a steep hill will know how an unstable system can behave, and why considering stability criteria is an essential part of any design.

Instabilities between people are just as universal. Look at young children in the playground, marital breakdown, or how communities collapse.

Nation States exhibit extreme instabilities, the arms race being the most concerning outcome.

The need for some way of dealing with instabilities is therefore essential, otherwise, the organization will shake itself to pieces.

The argument goes:

  1. The parts of a system will invariably have conflicting interests.
  2. These conflicts will tend to lead to instabilities.
  3. Instabilities left unchecked become destructive, and the system will begin to oscillate. (I want it! Give it to me! No, I won’t!)

To deal with this, any viable system must have mechanisms to maintain stability:

  • resolving conflicts
  • dealing with instability
  • damping oscillations

We call the collection of these mechanisms System Two.

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