Simon Terry

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Context

The dysfunction in organisations is often a lack of shared context.

Part of any community is a shared context. That context is a common set of facts and understanding of the world. At its best that context includes shared goals and purposes. This context enables people to see the world in enough of a shared way that trust and collaboration is possible.

Civil society breaks down when people stop sharing enough context to collaborate and reach consensus. Much of the dysfunction of politics globally is influenced by the breakdown of shared context. We can find our own media that reinforces our own worldview. Politicians actively reinforce this to strengthen their following and influence. The vitriol and political dysfunction is an outcome of a lack of shared context.

We’ve all experienced the moment where the same action takes on a different meaning in a different context. The car that wants to cut into your lane on a day you are late and stressed creates a different reaction to the same action on a peaceful day of vacation. Context can literally change how we see and react to the world.

In organisations there are many ways that shared context breaks down. At its most dangerous, an organisation can lack a shared context with the customers and other stakeholders that provide its reason for being. Look at any customer service breakdown and there will be a lack of shared context. Organisations lose track of their customer’s context when they stop listening to feedback and stop changing with their customers. Success builds ego and hubris that builds barriers to understanding.

Within organisations, shared context is absent when there are misalignments of purpose or information. The silos that brought us efficiency now promote division and lack of mutual understanding. No two teams can collaborate comfortably when they have their own sets of metrics and differing goals.

A key role for all in organisations but particularly for leaders is to create a shared context. Help people understand the whole system through transparency, understanding and engagement. When there is conflict and dysfunction, start building new understanding.


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