OUCH! Interaction Model – The Left Loop

20151104_145213One of the foundations of this work and one of the important means of illustrating  the misfit between organization theory and our experience of being in organizations is what we call our interaction model.

It is what we use to understand our own organizational experience as well as how we do our own consulting work. In the next few posts we’ll focus on the main parts of this model and provide a brief overview of these parts. Then we’ll start to use this model to look at how it illustrates our experience of being in an organization and what happens to it when we engage in a lot of the formal things we do as part of our organizational lives. What happens to this model when the drive for certainty and seeing the individual as discreet and separate from the context in which they are in is overlaid.

Interaction Model

One quick step back as an illustration. Remember that first budget meeting I went to over 30 years ago (post is here)? It was an interaction; lots of gestures and responses. I had limited experience with these types of meetings but brought what experience I did have with me. My primary intention coming into that meeting was to listen and learn. As the meeting progressed I also ended up with an intention of not being stuck with production volume numbers that might not be reached due to cold weather! I added to the interaction with my question about doing two budgets. My gesture was responded to by more or less ignoring it.

Lots more could be said about that meeting and this model but enough for now. It will be much more interesting using this model with all of our experiences as these posts emerge. For now, and over the next few posts lets look briefly at the different, main parts of the model.

The Left Loop

This is the part of the model that is comprised of experience and interaction and the connections between the two. Experience exists in the past and interaction exists in the present. The upper arrow, from experience to interaction represents the dynamic of bringing all of our past experiences to bear on a present interaction. The lower arrow, from interaction to experience represents the dynamic of the influence of present interaction on our understanding and meaning of past experience.

The upper arrow represents part of the tremendous complexity we bring to any interaction we have. The lower arrow represents the potential for change.

It also means our experience (the past), in terms of understanding and meaning is not static! The past, in terms of understanding and meaning is not etched in stone, it can change. This is represented by the term ‘forms and is formed by’ in the middle of the left loop.

Taken as a whole, the left loop represents patterns, typically patterns of interaction that provide us with a personal history constructed over the span of our lives. Over time these patterns can become quite stable both at individual and group levels.

So in terms of individuals and organizations this left loop can represent things like:

  • Culture
  • Values
  • Group dynamics
  • Personal, individual preferences
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Power dynamics
  • Policy and procedure

And many other repetitive activities that just seem to happen without much thought or consideration. Or critical analysis.

There are two really critical things about this left loop:

  1. The patterns represented by this loop are part of a process that is constantly emerging yet also has stability.
  2. The potential for change in these patterns exists in the form of different interactions.

We will be digging into this a lot more but for now just think about how something like culture gets talked about in your organization. Typically it will get described as some kind of ‘thing’, something you should be able to find somewhere and identify like other things such as desks or computers.

This has huge implications when we consider something like culture ‘change’ and I would suggest it is one of the most significant reasons why so many culture change initiatives fail so painfully.

The same can be said of individual preference, including personality preference. In the model above individual preference is seen as learned, repetitive patterns of interaction, subject to change through different interactions. It is not an innate thing we possess but a socially constructed pattern based on experience and interaction.

Back to that budget meeting and the left hand loop. The experience of most people in that room would have been that you budgeted for lots of ice cream to be needed. After all, that’s what gave you the most profit at the end of the year. So a question that threw this quite stable pattern into question was easily ignored by those in power and also by me, with little experience and confidence to justify that question. A variable, such as weather was best ignored.


And there are many, many things just about as uncontrollable as the weather in organizations that the drive for certainty requires to be ignored.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. Your experiences of how culture is defined and talked about in your organization would be good to hear.
  2. What kind of things just more or less happen in your organization because they are a comfortable pattern, and not given much critical analysis?
  3. What would happen if you did apply some critical analysis to those things?

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