The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts


As we were discussing changes in a team I was reminded of the idea of homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the state of steady internal conditions maintained by living things. This state is based on an internal regulating process creating a dynamic state of equilibrium.  Where such a dynamic state is the condition of optimal functioning for the organism.

Within optimal conditions, there is a natural resistance to change that brings homeostasis. The equilibrium, on the other hand, is maintained by the many regulatory systems existing in the body.

We can think of homeostasis as a set of variables which have to be kept in pre-set limits. And see equilibrium as being established by acting on variables which can be regulated as a reaction to changes in the environment or level of activity. We know for example that the normal range or homeostatic range for our body temperature is 36.1 °C (97.0 °F) to 37.8 °C (100.0 °F). The blood sugar level, on the other hand, is one of the variables which needs to be regulated according to the current level of activity or diet. Our body is used to react to different types of requirements: target a range or adapt the level to the current situation.

The control mechanisms used by our body have at least three interdependent components to regulate the variables: a receptor, a control center, and an effector. They are the basic components to maintain homeostasis.

The receptor will serve to sense changes in the environment and signal them through its response. The control center or integrating center will capture all the information sent by the receptors and initiate responses in the body to maintain homeostasis. The effector is the target acted upon by the control center in order to bring the changes needed to maintain homeostasis.

One of the most important examples of a control center is the hypothalamus. It is a region of the brain that controls everything from heart rate to body temperature as well as other variables.

Beyond these three basic components, there are positive and negative feedback mechanisms which add complexity to the system. In themselves, they have the simple function to raise or lower the activity of the effector.

The team I had been discussing with wants to move away from a hierarchical approach. They are working on an approach in which the people needing the decisions also take them. Until now, they have not been able to move out of their given homeostasis. The natural resistance to change is showing up through their habits. A  natural habit being the quest to receive recognition for their work and doing so by discussing decisions with their boss. Transforming their responsibility might move it out of the range of responsibility they are used to. Just as with body temperature, the system will then work to regulate itself, and use the existing mechanisms as long as no new ones have been put in place.

Until then, discussing decisions with their boss gave them the stability of knowing that their work is acknowledged and seen. This type of transaction allowed them to receive recognition. Building on analogies, then we can see receiving recognition leading to similar reactions as raising the blood sugar level.

What we noticed during our work was, that using the ideas of homeostasis to describe the transition process helped us decide how to move forward. We identified receptors which need to become accessible to individuals. This move will help team members to calibrate their own receptors with the system-wide receptors. This will assist the existing transition of the control center away from the existing hierarchy towards the team.


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