Whole system in the room

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…you are to make an important and complex decision that affects many people across the organization.

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You want to understand everyone’s stakes in order to make faster decisions and evoke greater personal responsibility.


  • Growing aspirations for both systemic—rather than single-problem—solutions and for greater inclusion of people in using what they know.
  • No task is too complex if the right people can be brought in on it.
  • The nature of the whole cannot be understood fully by anyone unless all participate.
  • People cannot be expected to act responsibly without understanding the impact of what they do.
  • Having a “whole system” in the room opens doors no one has walked through before.

Make “systems thinking” experiential rather than conceptual.


Include all the relevant people who are in in each meeting.

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When you can’t get the whole system in the room, the 3 × 3 rule might be feasible. nemawashi can be another approach and lead or follow don’t just do something, stand there!.

Once you’ve got the whole system in the room, you can explore the whole elephant. Make sure to relax while engaging.

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Six practices essential for improving whole systems

  1. are in to co-create and integral solution or decision with everyone who holds a stake in the initative—define the whole system in light of your goal and define who has formal authority? Resources? Expertise? Information? Need?
  2. match people to the task to fit the capability of the group to the size of the issue—make a note on your expected outcome (see kata); for each of those who are in, note the consequences of leaving them out.
  3. meeting length proportional to agenda to invest time and effort both effectively and efficiently—how much time do you need? Be honest. Be realistic. Rather than ‘meeting’, use words like:
    • dialogue;
    • action-oriented conversation; or
    • gathering.
  4. time to express yourself to air out any strong feelings before wanting to commit to action—only then people can focus on positive experiences and energetically switch to action orientation.
  5. differentiate to integrate to ease the process of discovering common ground and decision-making. You cannot integrate unless people know all the range of possibilities, so get it all out as early if you want to make progress. Think about when to as people to work alone, in small groups, or in the whole group.
  6. 3 × 3 rule to gain a better resolution much faster while optimizing the whole.
    • Pick a problem or decision that involves more than one department or function.
    • Get any two other functions that have a stake and/or three organization levels, preferable both.
    • Pick a goal that is realistic for the time available.

Also, images of potential to innovatively, creatively and energetically improve the whole system.