Watching the dog running earlier this summer from a distance I could sense something was not right. He was lame. As I got closer I looked at his legs as he moved along. He was quite happy, there was no sense of pain, he wasn't frowning, he was accommodating it.
A phrase came unbidden into my head from working with horses. I was taught when I was quite small that you can see if a horse is lame by looking at its head. This seemed bananas at the time, and I think I said so, though probably a little more carefully, she was not one to annoy with flippancy! Anyway a hand came out and pointed to a horse running around and how the head is carried. Easily. There was another - the reason we were there - that has lame. I couldn't spot which leg it was that was causing the lameness. "look at the head" so I shifted my eyes away from looking at feet and looked at the head, the head carriage wasn't the same. This horse was lame.
I still couldn't tell which leg it was that was out, but by shifting my gaze away from one of the possibilities, stopping trying to look and compare all legs at once , I saw the overall shape. I had a good sense of what the horse should look like in movement and by seeing the head and then the whole shape I had a much better idea of where there was something not working right. I was encouraged to use my ears too. I thought my Aunt was a scary genius ( she was!)
So with Primo I reverted to what I could only do at a distance, I looked at the overall shape. I had a good sense of what it should be and sure enough it was easier to choose which leg to pay attention to. He canters everywhere, over and under and through things, simple removal of a thorn twig and off he went, the right shape. Everything was elegant again, even when he was working hard. He had accommodated it. Sometimes as part of his running an alien object is ejected naturally, so the accommodation is a sensible response. With a thorn, that could have embedded and caused all manner of systemic problems.
Recently he had some other bother, (highly sensitive wonder hound that he is) which is now sorted. As he spurted along and charged up behind me demonstrating a fluency, speed and joy that can only honestly be described as beautiful, I realised his ears were floppy and a bit mad again. It's another "tell" which I can now use to see if he is quietly accommodating something he shouldn't be.
Dogs and Horses. My Aunt had shown me a way to look at the whole system to help decide where there might need to be an intervention.
It seems an obvious leap to me to think about how this plays out organisationally. After all Organisations are systems, made up of systems, teams, groups, right down to each one of us. Humans the most magical special systems of all. In teams or groups or even whole organisations, commercial or not, what might be showing as problematic might not be the source of a problem. It also might not be problematic, but naturally symptomatic of something else.
Sometimes you need to have a sense of the OVERALL shape and let your gaze rest on it, your sense of it, go soft - to take in the whole - to pinpoint where there might be something wrong in the system. And sometimes when there are changes happening it is essential to have a sense of what the new shape is likely to resemble so that you can calibrate if it is progressing or stuck. Then you have a better chance of making the right intervention or letting the system right itself.