The systemic approach has its roots in the family therapy of the Milan Approach with the psychiatrist Mara Selvini Palazzoli, psychoanalyst Luigi Boscolo, psychotherapist Gianfranco Cecchin and the psychiatrist Giuliana Prata. The methods established by family therapy are the concepts on which the systemic organization and management consulting are grounded.
In family therapy the system we observe is the family.
The therapist has two possibilities to observe: a first-order observation and a second-order observation. Since these distinctions come from cybernetics we talk about first-order and second-order cybernetics.
The first order cybernetics, developed by the Mental Research Institute of Palo in 1970, underlines that the observer is separate from the observed entity). The starting point is a discussion (observed by the observer) that generates a series of hypotheses which converge into a systemic hypothesis (which is created by the observers). The systemic hypothesis makes sense of the observed behaviors based on the symptom. Starting from the systemic hypothesis, then, a “final intervention” is constructed, which can consist, for example, of homework to be performed. It is then up to the therapist to deliver the final intervention to the family (patient is here seen as a homeostatic machine).
The second order cybernetics, introduced by the Austrian physician Heinz Von Foerster in 1982, underlines that the observer is involved in the scenario being observed. Thus, the observer and observed cannot be separated and there is no “final intervention” from the therapist.
With the second order of observation the attention shifts from the observed system to the observing system. The client observes the therapist as the therapist observes the client. The family is no longer seen as a “homeostatic machine” that the therapist first had to get to know and then fix the problem. We start paying attention to what was happening in the session, to the exchange of information, emotions, and the relationships between therapists and clients. At the center of the analysis was the therapeutic process rather than the final intervention. With the observation of the first order the highlight was the final intervention that the therapist, after analyzing the situation, had to offer a solution to spark change. The way of working underwent a further change with second order observation. The therapist was no longer observing only the system constituted by the family that presented itself to the sessions but also began to formulate hypotheses on the “significant system” connected with the problem presented. By significant system we mean the system of relations between the people involved in the problem presented.
In our ODT and PDT consulting’s we are second-order observers. We work with our clients in a continuous exchanging process. Together we build up the solution by training you to find the solutions by yourself. You are the best consultants of your enterprises and of course of yourself.
Systemic organization development is relatively young form of consulting. We find the roots of this subject after the Second World War in the United States and it recovers as growing part among the management studies.
The focus of systemic organization development is to plan transformation in social systems. Let’s try to explain this sentence:
Systemic organization development focuses on the question: How do organizations make change? We are also experts in developing and guide transformation processes of social systems. We talk about:
- Social systems because systems are interconnected through communication (Luhmann, 1995)
- The term “system” has his roots in biology (Maturana 1982), sociology (Luhmann, 1995) and family therapy (Selvini Palazzoli,1977). A system is a set of subsystems and elements that are separated from the environment and that influence each other and have a structure of relationships. Human biology provides a good example of what a system is:
The human being can be seen as an over-system, which consists of a multitude of systems (organs), which in turn consist of sub-systems (types of tissue) and elements (cells). The cells are again systems with various subsystems such as the nucleus, mitochondria, and cell membrane. There are various system relationships (blood, lymph and nerve tracts) between the over-system, its systems, sub-systems and elements. In this way, a system hierarchy arises across the different levels, depending on the perspective. Based on this perspective, growth, adjustment and self-regulation processes can be explained in organizations. The system structures and the system behavior are based on certain control mechanisms, which can be applied to any system regardless of the object of investigation, and ensure that certain states remain constant (cybernetics concept- Norbert Wiener).
- Since we are systemic consultants, we consult on different forms of social systems not only enterprises or firms but also NGOs, schools, justice palace, governmental institutions, hospitals, kindergarten, families, we have to talk generally about organizations and not only about enterprises/ companies.
- We talk about processes because we see our consulting and training as an interdependent process with our clients. We don’t give you the final intervention solution. Instead we train you to find the solutions yourself through reasoning, questions developing, hypothesis building, implementing solutions and rejecting them. For us giving you a final intervention solution is not a sustainable work method. The risk is that after 2 months you are at the same point you were when you walked in to our office. We help companies and people to help themselves.
Luhmann, N. (1995) Social systems. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press-
Maturana, H. (1982). Erkennen. Die Organisation und die Verkörperung von Wirklichkeit. Braunschweig/Wiesbaden: Vieweg.
Selvini-Palazzoli. (1977). Paradoxon und Gegenpardoxon. Stuttgart. Klett-Cotta.