This week, my four-year old son was having some difficulties at school, but so were all the other kids. When I inquired with the care provider, I found there had been two substitute teachers, one care provider on vacation, and one provider moved on to another job. The result was a short staff and bringing in care providers and teachers who were unknown to the 3-5 year old kids. Kids will be kids. When their environment changes outside their normal structure, they exhibit stress by doing things outside their normal behavior. The group dynamic changes. Boundaries are re-explored. Good behavior deteriorates. Listening ears are turned off. Is this the fault of the kids?
Recently at work, a group was asked to implement a 5S program where an area is Sorted, Set in order, Shined, Standardized and Sustained. The group is one that had been operating together for many years with some personnel operating in the environment for over twenty years. The result was resistance to change coupled with complaints and feelings of disruption. People asked why the change was necessary. People will be people. When our environments change outside our normal patterns we experience stress. Group dynamics change. Boundaries are reinforced. Enjoyment of work deteriorates. Learning wanes. Is this the fault of the staff?
Yes and no. Our sense of individuality and stability are built upon assumptions and patterns of behavior; our mental models. When our models of reality inside our heads do not adapt with our ever-changing environment, there’s a gap. This, however, is not creative tension. Creative tension is when the gap is between our vision of the future and our current situation. Destructive tension is when there’s a gap between the present and our ill-adapted mental models. Both the kids and the staff experienced destructive tension and were having to change their expectations to align with their environment. In this perspective, each is responsible to work with the tension, understand what’s happening and adapt as they need to. There is another perspective that is equally important. The kids and school as well as the staff and company are systems of interacting and interdependent elements. The patterns and structure each element experience emerges out of the interactions and interdependencies. The system itself undergoes a change which is beyond the individual elements. In this perspective, the kids and the staff are not at fault as the entire system changes.
Holding the two perspectives or the system and our personal expectations in our minds, we create a path to effectively deal with the tension. Seeing the larger system we integrate and are interdependent with allows us to distinguish the emergent from the manageable properties. This in turn can help us adjust our expectations and rework our mental models to align with the system. Seeing the system for what it is helps us align our expectations with reality.