One of my brighter ideas in recent times was the formalisation of the Entangled Trios approach and associated methods. It wasn’t a new idea, the origins trace back to my early work in Knowledge Management and the second major article using the five-domain version of Cynefin: Complex Acts of Knowing. That paper focused on the role of informal networks in an organisation and more especially informal, trusted collaboration rather than formal communities of practice. It was one of the first papers to take on board complexity theory to knowledge management and as such, it has ended up in the top ten cited papers in its field, which is gratifying. But despite the citations, the dominant practice is still formal rather than informal. The method ended up a key aspect of the EU Field Guide, one of three main practices required to ensure that you have a resilient organisation, one able to respond to unanticipated and unanticipatable future states. The denser the informal networks, the healthier the organisation.
The immediate prompt for this post is the need to write a proposal for one of my favourite clients (no names no pack drill) on how to achieve organisational change. I use that as a catch-all name for ‘change’ in general. I was on a conference call walking through Vienna Airport a few days ago advocating a very different approach from the conventional one and I agreed to write it up. I’ve been stuck on this and a few other tasks today so finally decided to write up the generic approach as a blog post (it is my medium, and I find it easy) and then create something more client specific as a follow-up task in the morning before I head out to Florence and an interesting two-day session on issues of flow and Lean – which will pick up on my last post on Estuarine Mapping. I’ve written a lot on this subject over the years by the way – most recently earlier this year in the “Control in the Shadows’ pair of posts.
Now we are all familiar with the conventional approach to change. Senior executives supported by the OD and other functions within an organisation determine an overall strategy and a set of associated goals, challenges, targets and the like. The idea is that the wider organisation will then pick up on these and make them real through changes in practice. For the purpose of this post, I will not challenge that process and it is the day-to-day reality of change initiatives anyway. Given that in complexity we deal with how things are, not how we would like them to be, it would be hypocritical to do otherwise. In my next post I’ll link Estuarine Mapping to this to suggest an alternative approach but for now, let’s take the top-down direction as given and aim to make it work.
Change initiatives are a real issue in a modern organisational. The complex nature of the world we live in means they are necessary, but most organisations are in a state of change fatigue. So we end up with a dilemma, we need active engagement in our programme. But we are under pressure not to increase the time burden on overburdened staff. So we end up with a token workshop to two where everyone agrees that change is necessary but no one really does anything. It’s all too easy to agree something in the intensity of a workshop or meeting but the level of sustainability is a different issue.
The reality of change is that, if it happens, it is manifest in the water cooler conversations and day interactions of people talking with friends and close colleagues. Formal reporting tends to tell senior management what they want to hear, not what they should listen to. So if we are really to achieve the change we need to take action at the micro-level of those conversations between friends and close colleagues and also monitor the impact at the same level. That means a much broader engagement that is possible in a consultative process, but we also have engagement fatigue so this isn’t going to be easy. But one thing is clear, simply peddling back on a conventional approach will end up with the worst of both worlds.
We do however have three things going for us if we have the courage to do something a little different and the good news is the risk is low; if it doesn’t work Senior Management is unlikely to be blamed, at least they tried. They are:
So to play on those characteristics we have three approaches that work, one a method the other a tool
So overall the process of change is fairly simple and organic and we can describe it in three stages
You also have the side benefit that this all gets you ready for distributed decision-making, a key aspect of resilience but that is for a future post.
The bramble bush picture is significant, entangled systems produce delicious fruit
The opening photograph of Blackberries was taken on my recent final sprint to complete the South West Coastal Path in September this year. One of the benefits of walking in Autumn is that the bushes provide sustenance! The banner photo is cropped from an original by Julietta Watson on Unsplash
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