“Given that people everywhere in the system are necessary to develop effective responses, a critical leadership role is to focus attention on developing the processes and relationships that support people coming together to develop solutions.” (When Complex Systems Fail)

Meg Wheatley is aware of field science. Vision is a field. Individually we see only a small bit at a time. When we come together and listen to one another we see much more broadly. Missing pieces appear. We begin to get a sense of the texture of the problem, and not merely its mechanism. We begin to see in color. While an individual lens of the hologram contains the entire image, the image does not appear in 3d until the lenses are combined.

This is a time when the fragmentation of the church works against us in ways we do not even grasp, since we are only beginning to perceive the problem. The isolation and pace of ministry, the division of ministry into classes of lay and professional — all these things work against our listening and seeing together. This failure to live out the reality of an interpretive community greatly weakens us. We need to develop processes that support interconnection beyond our comfortable boundaries. We need to reach out.. right out to the margins.. to bring in a greater diversity of voices. This is critical in our moving forward with the gospel in this culture.

I’m reminded of a piece contributed by Paul Fromont some years back. Paul was reflecting on conventions and decision making in organizations. He noted that it is a widespread presupposition that healthy group decision-making tends to “converge” towards the middle, leaving the extreme views of participants aside. However, is this the healthiest or best process? Evidence indicates that, especially in complex matters, it is not. Paul quoted Ephraim Radner,

“[Serge] Moscovici himself, along with others, did experiments and collected data that demonstrated that [this method] is in fact not the [best] way of reaching consensus. Given relatively un-coerced or un-manipulated parameters of action, groups tend to reach consensus, not through lopping off extreme views and inching towards the middle through compromise. Rather, a relatively free decision-making process will engage in vital wrestling with extreme views, and that engagement will often end by coalescing around some version of an extreme view itself! In other words, as extreme and divergent views are permitted and deliberately engaged over time with freedom from constraint, people actually learn things and change their minds, and a more creative consensus emerges that tends to be more decisive, yet also more aware, in its understanding of what is at stake and what the risks and opportunities actually are.”

Wheatley closes her article on complex systems with these words:

“For this crisis, and all the similar ones waiting to greet us in the new millennium, leaders are required to:

• Engage the whole system. Only participation can save you.
• Keep expanding the system. Ask “Who else should be involved?”
• Create more openness and ease of access in everything
• Create abundant information, circulate it through dedicated channels (such as Web sites or intranets)
• Develop simple reporting systems that generate information quickly and broadcast it easily.
• Make relationship development a top priority. Trust is your greatest asset.
• Resist competitive behaviors; support only collaboration.
• Demolish boundaries and territories. Push for openness.
• Focus on creating new, streamlined systems. There is no going back.

“We don’t have to know the future in order to be prepared for it. Organizations and communities that learn to work together, that know how to learn together, that trust one another, and that become more expansive and inclusive, develop the capacity to deal with the unknown. They create a capacity for working and thinking together that enables them to respond quickly and intelligently to whatever the future presents.”