Structures influence behaviour

The importance of context

One of the most practical learnings of systems theory is that the structures influence behaviour.

We can consider as structures to whatever influence our decisions. We can refer to the procedures, rules, manuals of operation, the database with a type of inputs and formats and not others, instructions about how to make the reports and the kind of information that contains, and so on. Also the infrastructure, the hardware, the working space or the logistics. Even all those informal or unwritten rules, what we call the company culture, the history, the experience. All are conditioning to do things one way and not another.

In our day to day life, structures influence our choices. Working in a hierarchical or bureaucratic company will limit our opinions and ideas or being paid with a substantial individual bonus will discourage our collaborative decisions. On the contrary, a flat organisation or a balance between individual and team rewards will stimulate us to act differently.

If we want to change the behaviour in an organisation, we must avoid simplistic solutions focused on direct impact and control. The establishment of politics focused directly and exclusively on the goal or even worse, impositions through direct coercion or external motivation, usually economic, doesn’t work.

We must identify the causes that motivate certain behaviours and seek to change them. A catalyst can stimulate proactivity. To overcome the limits and constraints can liberate people’s energy. Creating space can let others lead.

There is no doubt that a change in the rules will change the behaviour immediately and more effectively than if we try to influence it directly.

The Game

There is an instructive game that shows this subject very visually, and it’s worth you to know. It is “The Icosystem Game“.

Change on rules influence behaviour

Icosystem uses The Game to illustrate among others, the following points:

  • Simple rules of individual behaviour can lead to surprisingly coherent system-level results.
  • Small changes in rules or in the way they are applied can have a significant impact on the aggregate results.