Systems Theory discusses a concept called 'Emergent Properties'.
A 'system' is a network of relationships made up of different elements working together. A cell is a system, so is a person, an ecosystem, a family, a society…..
An emergent property of a system is a quality or capacity the system has which cannot be found in any of its individual parts when they’re looked at in isolation. The phrase often used to describe this is that 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'.
It’s not to be found (at least in the way we usually use the term) in any individual part of the brain or body, but it emerges from the interaction of many 'non-conscious' parts of the body.
Emergent properties appear at the 'highest' level of a system, growing out of elements at a lower level.
There is another thing that happens in systems: Downward Causality.
This refers to how an emergent property of a system (at the top level) changes the elements from which it emerges.
Consciousness emerges from the interaction between parts of our body. Consciousness then enables us to change the parts of our body it emerged from. This, in turn, alters our consciousness. (That’s the heart of the health and fitness industry - your consciousness observes that you feel below par, so you change how you eat or you decide to exercise more. This changes the health of individual body parts which alters your perception - the quality of your consciousness…..).
The combination of emergent properties and downward causality creates a feedback loop.
This can either be a productive, development feedback loop, or can lead to decay and destruction.
My interest has always been in the nature of collaboration - both how to train individuals to contribute to collaborations, and what structures/systems best enable collaboration.
Initially for me this was an interest in ensemble in performance. In the final section of my first book 'Encountering Ensemble' (Methuen, 2013), I wrote:
'(Ensemble) emerges from a precise combination of inter-related actions…. To endure it must be continually maintained…. It is not a product but a process.' (p. 412-13)
This combination of ideas can equally be applied as we consider teams, collaborations and relationships in business, institutions and community development spheres.
It suggests three key things:
If you’re responsible for a collaboration, or for managing a department or team, whether through running a business, structuring a learning environment or forging community relationships, as you try to improve processes and outcomes, ask yourself these three questions:
To pay attention to any one of these questions without the other two is to risk fatally undermining the effectiveness of what you’re trying to achieve.
An effective 'team' is not a THING - it’s a continuing process.
If you want people to be a team, enable them to DO TEAM (this is a structural question).
Pay attention to each individual’s needs and to the structures through which they communicate one with another.
This is one of the core understandings in human-centred perspectives on management, creative collaboration and long-term staff-retention.
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