Practices at the edge – enabling co-evolution

culture Oct 01, 2019

“There is an intimate relationship between inner and outer, between self and world, and they co-evolve. And as we change, what is revealed to us about the world changes as well. And beyond that, the world itself changes to meet us in certain ways” – Charles Einstein

The notion of co-evolution is becoming more mainstream as organisations and individuals begin to experience the need for more rapid, ongoing and broader evolution. While we may agree that we need to co-evolve with our world, for many this seems out of reach given the legacy we carry.

How can we convert the concept of co-evolution into practical application?

A useful first step is to define co-evolution. By co-evolution, we mean the ability of two or more systems to influence and support each other’s evolution.

Let’s explore some actionable ways to build capacities to enable co-evolution. And in doing so, make a broader and more expansive contribution to our world:

Learning about the organisational system

To be able to co-evolve requires that people understand and learn about the living systems with which they can co-evolve.

Organisations have tended to focus on traditional learning, based on skills, knowledge and subject matter expertise. At times this is supplemented with training about roles such as coaching or leadership development.

Rarely do organisations effectively enable their people to collectively understand, view and work on the organisational system as a whole. When they do, it tends to be an insular view of the system and its power dynamics. It rarely considers the organisation from a living systems perspective, placing it within the context of other interrelated and co-evolving systems.

Organisations that work from a deeper shared understanding of the whole systems they are interconnected with can play an entirely different game. This shared understanding can broaden their reach, impact and contribution while embedding innovation and creativity at the heart of their endeavour.

The higher level of insight and informed, aligned actions that emerge from systemic understanding, make co-achievement and co-evolution possible. Other positive side effects of systemic understanding include the reduction of wastage and duplication that occur when people don’t understand the organisational system as a whole.

Some practical ways to enable a shift towards whole systems learning and thinking include:

  • Develop an organisation where every conversation, project and interaction is experienced as and encouraged to be a learning experience. Develop the capacity for each person in the organisation to engage in ongoing action-reflection. Invite each person to reflect on learnings
  • Make it essential for all people to think like a CEO, to see the organisation as a whole rather than as parts. Invite a move beyond identifying with a role or function, into identifying with self as part of a greater whole. Invite language of ‘our organisation’ and help people to move away from the language of ‘my function’ as a starting point
  • Help people explore how the relationships between the parts of an organisation influence its cohesion and effectiveness in delivering benefits to the customers and communities they serve. Invite people to consider how the relationships within their team, and between their and other teams, influence organisational outcomes
  • Enable people to explore the relationship between themselves, their stakeholders and their capacity to influence the system. Reflective methods such as the balcony-dance floor analogy and a living systems framework can be useful
  • Encourage people to seek feedback from all stakeholders and client groups, and to deepen partnerships and ways of meeting each other’s needs. Understand the impact you and your team behaviours are having, for better or worse, on these clients and key stakeholders.

Demonstrate care for the broader ecosystems we are part of

The worst excesses and most extreme acts of negligence or harm in our working lives appear to occur when the capacity to care is low or missing. These acts can occur through a lack of awareness of our impact on the systems (including human systems) that we are part of. It can also be through a lack of care or concern for the harm done to those systems (disconnection from care) or as a way to protect or elevate ourselves.

It can also be from a sense of overwhelm or overload due to needing to manage internal politics and bureaucracy, and a subsequent desire to focus on “my immediate patch”. Some practical activities to move beyond these can include:

  • Invite everyone in the organisation to have an external orientation and caring for all of humanity and the planet. Invite people to see how they are making a difference collectively
  • Make it taboo for the organisation to “do business with itself” and find ways to minimise re-work, duplication and unnecessary red-tape
  • Have a purpose-oriented question at the heart of every conversation
  • Bring people into constant contact with customers, partners, and ecosystems that are affected by them
  • Rather than a once a year tree planting expedition or soup kitchen experience, embed environmentally and socially responsible business practises in every part of the organisation. Seek ways to influence the work practises (ethical supply chain, environment, human rights and responsibilities) of partners and stakeholders within your ecosystem. Seek ways to enable these partners to influence your work practices.

Establishing co-evolving partnerships

A single individual or entity can’t transform a large system. It is through wise collective action towards a new direction that disruption begins and new possibilities emerge. Practical ways to enable this include:

  • Continue the work of personal evolution – reducing the pollution from our existing worldviews and belief systems to increase our capacity to think critically and broadly. Personal growth builds more expansive, whole and accurate ways of perceiving
  • Explicitly establish intent for partnerships with providers, customers and community to enable co-evolution Example: Move customer relationships from provider-customer to true partner and co-creator
  • Identify partnerships or collectives that have a shared aspiration for evolution for a particular aspect of society
  • Actively explore with partners how you can positively impact each part of each other’s value chain, organisation and impact

These capacities of systems learning, caring and partnering plant the seeds of evolution that can go well beyond the boundaries of an organisation.

Working in this way has the potential to send positive ripples into future generations. Moving beyond traditional approaches to social influence and motivation is a critical part of this.

Find something to disrupt and re-create

The potential legacy of an organisation can expand way beyond creating wealth for its shareholders or meeting the needs of its customers and people. It can extend into positively disrupting and transforming its markets, industries and world.

At Adaptive Cultures, we work with organisations to enable ongoing evolution. We actively seek out partners that also aspire to expand their influence and contribute well beyond their current corporate boundaries and existing markets.

If you are interested in being part of the Adaptive Cultures Community or bringing these ideas to your organisation, you might like to apply for our next Adaptive Cultures Practitioner Accreditation

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