The focus of organisational change interventions moves away from ‘planning change’ and onto ‘facilitating emergence’. Most change agents seem to have a much more mechanical view of themselves—how can you be a good consultant, how can you re-engineer or fix an organisation, if you don’t have a full ‘tool kit’? This is the complement of the prevailing metaphor of ‘organisation as machine’ which has been around since the time of Taylor and Fayol (Morgan 1997). It implies that the change agent can stand outside the system, diagnose and understand its working parts and then intervene to redesign it to operate in a more effective way.
The complex systems approach invites us to work in the system, to give up the illusion that we can comprehend its complexity and to adopt more modest aims. One approach is that adopted by Patricia Shaw and Bill Critchley. They choose to work both formally and informally in organisations helping people have conversations which they might otherwise not have had. There is no linear plan of campaign; instead they work towards helping the organisation become ready for its own transformation. In Bak’s terms they help to remove barriers and open up channels so that the system can self-organise to a critical configuration, where change becomes possible.