Parallel Process: Between groups and between organizations & systems

Fresh powder snow!  We’ve been so hungry for such a lovely sight that I might have gotten a bit carried away; an unforced error landed me sideways on a mogul and now my lower back is in pain and I have to type standing up.  Well, at least I got in close to 4 hours of lovely skiing for this round!  Now to concentrate on getting well, and soon.

So, I’ll be brief and current in this post.

so irreistable…

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation sure knew how to shoot itself in the hip.  The injury is serious enough to elevate way above the usual “foot” metaphor!  I will refrain from getting into politics, even though it’s precisely that that got the foundation in such a twisted state.  I can stay at the meta level of politics and there are precious organizational lessons to be gleaned from this brouhaha.

From organization and system perspectives, this conflict was inevitable.  The “system” in this case is our current political system; by all accounts, it is poisonous and ugly.  While even charity causes cannot escape politics, the people running the charity organizations need to know how to draw and maintain boundary; when the boundary becomes permeable, problems in one area will travel to the other area.  This is the essence of parallel process, where conflicts in one area, among relationships, set A, may be manifested in totally different relationships, set B.  Though the original research was to provide an understanding of intergroup dynamics within an organization, a parallel application is how organizations relate to systems.  So, when Komen opened its border to political influence, it invited the same ills that are wrecking havoc with our political system.

Within any organization, there are always power plays and power shifts.  But inevitably, when people at the top level who possess the power find themselves at odds with the rest of the people in the organization, particularly those at the lower level, they tend to offer inane objects as some kind of appeasement, which usually only further infuriates the lower ranks.  (I really am not thinking of politics; sometime later, though, I will write about these levels of power play…a fascinating phenomenon.)  In Komen’s case, the “lower” rank is the vast community supporting women’s health.  So, not surprisingly, I’ve read and heard that most women are simply writing off Komen, despite the reversal of the decision.  And since there are plenty of worthy organizations offering direct and better health services for women, it isn’t difficult to find a new allegiance.

Part of Komen’s myopia comes from its increasing size and presence.  Over the years, Komen has gone beyond just raising awareness for breast cancer to become a “pink industrial complex.”  Large and powerful groups and organizations have a tendency to insulate themselves from the outside world, and lose touch with the important elements outside the organization.  This is exactly the ecological problem, using the rabbits and lynxes example, discussed in my entry on change.  In other words, to not pay attention to the surrounding system and the organization’s relationship with this surrounding system will be a costly mistake.

I’ll be back!!

So, how can Komen redeem itself from its mistake?  Definitely not with its phony attempt at apologizing; that’s the inconsequential appeasement gesture I alluded to earlier.  Only through shifting power may Komen begin the process of salvation.  In this current case, the foundation needs to fire its president and the person in charge of the publicity, AND if they can identity him/her, the person(s) who started advocating the withdrawal of funding from Planed Parenthood (PP).

In the light of the fact that PP’s funding from Komen was a grant contract, this mistake was even more inexcusable.  If Komen considered PP to be a liability, all Komen had to do was wait till next grant cycle and not renew PP’s funding, which, while it might still irritate some sections of public, would have caused only a fraction of the impact of its mistakes this week.  So, we are back to politics.  Komen’s “leaders” need to read and grasp the principles of parallel process.

I am hoping to resume skiing next weekend, if more new snow is coming down as predicted.  What will you be playing?  Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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