THE INTENT OF" THE ONION"
The gist of the idea of 'The Onion' is:
|In an organizational issue, there is more than one archetype at play. The implication of this is we |
|could afford to be ‘more playful’ and therefore pull out as many archetypes as possible rather than |
assume/insist there is only ONE right one. Sometimes getting the one right, often gets in the way of
identifying system archetypes.
|And if we did so, we begin to notice a somewhat consistent pattern emerge in the way the systemic |
|structures are connected to each other - and they begin to line up pretty much like the layers of the |
|This means, we now have a mechanism that helps us work more systematically through the levels |
|of complexity and help us determine things we could work with in the short-term, medium-term and |
THE UNFOLDING OF THE ONION - WHAT STARTS IT?
At the core of most ‘“onions’ tends to be a Balancing Loop (this is a self-correcting mechanism we use to
correct problems). This archetype is often harder to detect and instead we tend to see the next levels, that is
a Success to the Successful or Escalation archetypes as triggering the subsequent layers of the “onion”.
Inherently organizations, like any organic or natural systems, require a Reinforcing Loop at its core or be the
starting point of its development. This allows for sustainable or more organic nature of growth of its
strategies (much like the way a tall, strong tree grows, a little at a time).
When this is ignored, the system brings to bear the same reinforcing loop (it is its' way of warning us that we
have ignored it) except it spins as a vicious cycle instead and creates problems and in turn the chaos and
turbulences we experience. And to top things, when we choose to respond to these rising tides of issues, we
tend to to 'correct the problem' by introducing even more balancing loops. "The onion starts building even
deeper layers" within the system. At which point, the system begins to bog itself down, causing rising apathy,
lowered productivity, creating disengaged workers and not to say, mounting costs and eventually bringing the
organization down to its knees.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
Essentially a Balancing Loop “triggers the onion” as it is primarily unsuited for "growth" of
When we start with a balancing loop it is primarily used (the assumption is to set goals) to "train or focus
the organization's attention to bring about results from which it is deviating"; the behaviour of which is
consistent with mechanistic or ‘rational world-view which believes “Faster is better” leading to "What gets
measured, gets done!" The system now enters a structure that creates a significant spurt of growth as set
by the goals at all levels within the system. This is the part about the model (and the loop) that is attractive!
However, by doing so, we notice the onion and in turn the organization begins to experience ‘strains and
stresses (the wobble effect)’ which in turn proliferates dynamic complexities that we experience.
When this happens, our inherent response is to ‘react’ even further by setting more goals (detailed
complexity) and by doing so, layers of archetypes begin to form and multiply and they begin to look
something like this. Notice if the stories sound familiar. Does it?
The trick is to stand back and uncover the onion!
|Archetypes at the core
that we tend to see
|Subsequent Layers we
tend to find
|Further Layers we
tend to find
|Archetypes at the periphery
we are likely to find
|Balancing Loops (BL)
||Success to the
|Limits to Success
Drifting Goals (DG)
|Shifting the Burden (StB)
Fixes that Fail (FtB)
Tragedy of the Commons
|Control the purpose of
the meeting or encounter
|Maximize winning and
|Behave what you consider
|Take a systematic approach to do systemic interventions throughout the “onion”:
- Each ‘layer’ of archetype presents an intervention which, we can begin to act on.
- Start with those at the edge. These present short-term interventions and as we overcome these,
we garner the resources (time, effort and resources) we would need and can use to intervene the
archetypes at the core, which are ‘harder to get at’.
We begin to find that working with Systems Thinking becomes much easier! And if we redirect some
of the passion we apply when reacting to events and instead channel them to working on the "the
structures" within the system, we could begin to see ourselves getting far more results with
remarkably less resources and not to say, see growing maturity, allegiance and commitment by people
within the organization.
Conversations become more reflective, and eventually generative and solutions in turn creative and
more sustainable. Collective learning now becomes possible (this also creates an awareness within us
of the irrelevance of perpetuating a focus on merely teaching skills to individuals).
Sounds too good to be true? Well, ... what if it was possible?