Barry Oshry started running the Power Lab back in the 1970s. Using anthropological observation techniques, he identified the system that we find ourselves operating within – and how it becomes dysfunctional.
Tops (End) – Burdened by overwhelming complexity and responsibility. They feel unsupported, isolated and out of touch. Conflicts in this area become personalized and
Middles – Torn by conflicting needs and isolated from each other as well as from the Tops and Bottoms, and often receiving little positive feedback from anyone, many begin questioning their own competence and further isolating from others.
Bottoms (End) – Feel oppressed and unseen in the system. The behavior of the Tops and Middles seem random and of little positive value. They don’t have the big picture. They begin to join towards a common enemy (“Them”) and will shun those who break ranks.
Ends push responsibility to the Middle. The Middle is expected to be responsible for moving the agenda ahead. This results in the M
“Ends and Middle are out of partnership, but as long as Middle continues to do a great job of meeting both Ends’ needs there may not be a problem.
But when Middle fails to deliver, we can see how Ends fall into being unsupported while Middle falls into being torn.
Even if Middle continues to deliver for both Ends, there is a gradual disabling of both parties, with Middle burning out while Ends grow increasingly incapable of handling their own issues.”Barry Oshry – Seeing Systems (2007)
I think that as we evolve from top/down hierarchies to networks, we find ourselves in that middle space more frequently.
Oshry speaks to how our inability to make everyone happy is felt like a personal failing.
It’s a failure of the system. A system we have set up. A system that is failing us more frequently.
Oshry’s solution is to create partnership. To start, he asks questions about responsibility.
Where should responsibility lie? Are you pulling it up to yourself when it should be with those that have the issue or are close to the problem? Are you taking on ALL responsibility for resolving issues and problems and for delivery when some should be left with the Ends? Are you shifting responsibility to someone else that should be yours?
To me, the first step for all of us is getting clear on what is legitimately our responsibility. The second step is starting the uncomfortable process of changing the dance.