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Command and Control v. Whole Systems Strategic Change


System-wide personal ownership of strategic change initiatives drives system-wide success. When only a few at the top of an organization create strategic direction, only a few own it. Without whole systems engagement, strategic change flops like a dying fish. With inclusive, all-hands-on-deck leaders who cherish the wisdom and experience of all employees, strategic change efforts fly.

In the all-too-common leadership practice of command-and-control, a few at the top know the details of strategic plans because only they were present when the strategy was developed. Under such conditions, strategic plans mean next-to-nothing for the managers and line employees charged with carrying out the work. Behind the scenes, lower-level employees turn flashy copies of strategic plans into doorstops or line birdcages with them.

In contrast, whole systems change methods such as World Café, Open Space Technology, and Future Search typically involve far more stakeholders and diverse perspectives. Because all employees set strategy, all know the reasons and passion behind change initiatives. All have skin in the game. Engaging a diverse workforce at every level of the organization results in better thinking and better outcomes. Embracing diversity generates creativity. Harvesting the creative, collective wisdom of the whole system leads to everyone designing the future, together.

Co-developing strategies where CEOs gather side-by-side with line staff and middle managers generate not only energy but also emotional attachment to collective action. Great leaders recognize that whole systems engagement generates sustainable results in ways that command and control, top-down management can never do.

The killing off command-and-control thinking can be a slow death. Senior management may fear loss of control. Ingrained habits resist innovation like rock against wind. Nonetheless, innovative, system-wide large group engagement methods, once experienced, transform even the deepest skeptics into believers. Strategic change initiatives go from gathering dust on the shelf to being central to the way your business or organization embraces the future.

For more insights into how your organization might benefit from whole systems change along with other resources for increasing meeting effectiveness and embracing diversity visit

Mark Smutny is a professional facilitator, consultant, author, and founder of Civic Reinventions, Inc.  He is known for helping organizations uncover the wisdom in their diversity, build cohesion, and achieve their goals. He draws upon decades of facilitating meetings, leading retreats, and working with nonprofits and businesses. He teaches and writes on the arts of effective facilitation.  Visit or email Mark Smutny at for more information.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Smutny. All rights reserved.