I Declare a Thumb War: The Role that Systems and Organizations Play

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Organizations and systems are all around us. Interpersonal systems consist of human beings and our own interpersonal way of thinking and managing our self system. Organizations can include church, work and groups. We do have control over certain systems and organizations but there are many organizations that we have to be apart of without being given a choice. The war lies within the systems of each organization and the battles within each system are small but numerous.

Each organization has a system in which the foundations that we have built our organizations on lives. These systems are moving rapidly and in a closed domain and herein lies the conflict.

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Issues present themselves in a variety of ways. In any issue the assessment of the interpersonal system is vital and the first step within conflict resolution and management. Without this step you are trying to fix issues within a system without full knowledge of all systems involved. Knowledge of what you can control which is your interpersonal system gives you a handle on the weapons that you have in your arsenal.

What power do other systems have over our interpersonal system?

Professor Philip Zimbardo presented a valid question that he tested in his highly controversial Stanford Prison experiment. What happens if you put good people in a negative atmosphere? Does the good override the bad or visa versa? Stanley Milgram took this theory a step farther as he implemented a powerful authority figure in his experiment that provided orders, direction and even a rationale for lethal behavior. In Zimbardo’s experiment one of the students that portrayed a prison guard found it remarkable that his brutal leadership was left virtually unchallenged. Although these are extreme cases valuable lessons must be harvested.

Choices are always available to us. Sometimes they are easier to see and other times they are not. Get in the habit of challenging what everyone else is ok with doing and regularly challenge the norms within your own interpersonal system.

In reflecting on organizations and systems and the conflict between systems, we need to look at what conflict looks like in real time.


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Serious problems have been solved by focusing on external agents—preventing smallpox, increasing food production, moving large weights and many people rapidly over long distances. Because they are embedded in larger systems, however, some of our “solutions” have created further problems. And some problems, those most rooted in the internal structure of complex systems, the real messes, have refused to go away. Hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability, unemployment, chronic disease, drug addiction, and war, for example, persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradicating them. No one deliberately creates those problems, no one wants them to persist, but they persist nonetheless. That is because they are intrinsically systems problems—undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structures that produce them. They will yield only as we reclaim our intuition, stop casting blame, see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.

– Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems

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