Designing a Modern System of Robustness

System and Behavior Symbiosis

Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS

An appreciator of contrast and the beautiful spaces between, Kathryn leads at the fulcrum of system complexity and applied behavioral science design, for progressive results. She has been weaving systems change vision and initiatives into strategy, priorities, and operating from outcomes as a consulting advisor and organisation designer to leaders, founders, and teams for 25 years. From her wheelhouse, she taps into how you communicate, relate, operate, work, lead, and group think; infuses presence, power, and self-awareness onto broad, prioritised organisation strategy; and designs tangible change to elevate your system's potential and expand its human value.

more about Kathryn
, New York City

These principles in the table below are structural. They deal with the scaffold of the system. Expect to unwind, unlearn, untangle, and un-knot deep grooves of unconscious, habituated tasking, doing, acting, and “managing.” Simultaneously, expect to design, adopt and apply wholly new structures, habits, and pattern making to your system.

Structural Interventions

Buttresses Against Organisation/System Fragility

Behavioral Interventions

These next principles below are behavioral. They deal with the energetics of the system. Expect to apply new intelligences, bring up and out your real personhood, find your voice, stand in your power, engage the multidimensionality of your underutilised brains, and draw on what feels right even over what has always been done. Equally expect to feel disoriented, cautious or afraid. Being embodied is a new fashion, less tried and true — yet.

Anticipate and Navigate Surprise and Uncertainty

  • Expect the unpredictable rather than be surprised by it

  • Become a sensor/detective for patterns of change

  • Scan for threats and opportunities and exploit them

  • Pay hawkish attention to the periphery. What are the developments? How do they touch you

  • What are potential consequences?

  • Imagine plausible outcomes (and test them) without being in the business of guesswork

  • Harness ambiguity as a force for change rather than as a threat

Create Feedback Loops and Adaptive Mechanisms

  • Build a lean operating rhythm of test and learn. Iterate and adapt as you go.

  • Share learnings / feedback out, up, and across the organization for systemic learning, questioning, and imagining

  • Go to the factory floor (Gemba); get close to the real work

  • Translate signals into action e.g. resources, dynamic project teams with permission to explore, time allotment

Foster Trust and Reciprocity

  • Act in ways that benefit other participants in the system

  • Establish mechanisms that ensure reciprocity

  • Ensure presence and support by leadership

  • Add value (rather than extract it) to other stakeholders in the ecosystem

  • Give rather than take

  • Take responsibility for yourself; own your stuff

And lastly, following are several confrontations to sit with for reimagining how to hold context and space, meaningfully and purposefully in role, leading teams, delivering on workflow and outcomes. The long and the short of it is, get exceptionally good at working with the unseen, unexpected, and unsaid — to build and hold the reins of a robustly emerging system.

Break the Habit of Being Your Conditioned Leader Self

  1. Be realistic about what you can predict and control

  2. Be optimistic about what you can shape collaboratively

  3. Be honest about what is beyond the reach of any single individual’s (e.g. leader) influence

  4. Identify, monitor, and address complexity beyond what you own or control - outside your doors

  5. Contribute positively and create value in the broader system (stakeholders, customers, partners) to justify participation

  6. Foster freedom, autonomy, collaboration, and initiative at the local level

  7. Shape the context of the local level versus controlling what is happening

  8. Question top-down control by truly evaluating returns, feedback, and motivation


Adapted originally from an article called The Biology of Corporate Survival, Harvard Business Review (2016)

You’ve got this. x

by Kathryn Maloney M.A. ABS
  1. Topics
  2. Newsletter
  3. Theeo Consulting
  4. About Theeo
  5. Theeo Magazine
  6. Contact
  7. Theeo Website Terms