In business, organisations and societies opposites are everywhere. These seemingly incompatible situations are often where we can’t solve a problem without creating another one. That is, there are contrairities to manage rather than problems to solve.
There is a beautiful tool, polarity management, to work with both sides of the issue. However, dig a little deeper and it turns out that many of these polarities can be enlivened, illustrated and understood though four primary perspectives – integral theory’s quadrants. This post, part of a series, explores a bit of the beauty, through such a view, that TetraDynamics can bring (see the first TetraDynamics post for basics).
Agency and structure can be prominent, for example, in business. In a small organisation, adaptation and changes to reach agreements and for new business relationships can be quick. Individuals may have a lot of agency to create and design. Too much agency, however, can be dangerous. The downsides might be obvious to many innovators – too many opportunities, too little structure. Structure may add a more strategic approach.
Try flipping such a polarity – e.g. if you prefer fast individual action try arguing (in a safe to fail context) the advantages of organisational structure. Fascinatingly, in a real life situation, you might find someone who would have been likely to hold the opposite pole pointing out the advantages of individual agency.
Classically, a polarity like agency and structure is something to manage. We would like to maximise the innovative nimble agency activities and the strategic structural advantages. TetraDynamics, in part, highlights that these relationships are not just about individual agency and organisational/collective structure. We’re most likely to flourish if we care about our own selves and others perspectives, as well as structural conditions, when we’re acting.
In other words, to manage such a polarity we’re likely to be well served by looking at our own values, the way we make sense of such an issue, the way our meaning making in our minds preferences certain approaches – doing this on the specific case or example at hand. We can make the picture deeper and livelier if we think about group and cultural norms, including how others influence us and our approaches.
Start to look at the dynamics and you’ll find that:
Polarity does not just require a singular approach. By looking at it across all four integral quadrant dimensions you start to see the ways in which all these quadrants are enfolded in on each other.
That might be making things sound complex. Practically, for those familiar with polarity management, take each pole, or an important high leverage action to maximise the positives of that pole, and map it into integral quadrants.
One of the consistent beauties of the integral quadrants is, as you can argue everything has at least these four aspects to it, people find them wonderfully enlightening. Approaches and issues that have been stuck, complex tangled problems, start to loosen. Scaffolding is built with new insight and innovative approaches. That’s a worthwhile and promising return from exploring deeper into the dynamics of such relationships.