There is a natural tendency to
conceptualize reality with ourselves at the center. I understand everything in relation to me. This same tendency
applies to human services agencies and to people associated with them. The
agency is at the center of the relevant reality and everything about the agency
is understood from this perspective. This auto-centric perspective is a primary
barrier to understanding and achieving human services agency excellence.
In Chapter One, we saw the
human services agency is at point “C” – the lower right corner – in
the Helping Triangle. Consider how much the Helping Triangle would have to be
distorted to make the agency its focal point. Nonetheless, the tendency to use
this perspective is not uncommon. Once the agency is in place and operating,
the Helping Triangle is quickly forgotten. The agency is just there. It is the
new reality, the center of the universe of interest.
would be little more than excessively self-serving if the incorporating
environment were static. As we know, it is not. “The basic precepts of
systems theory suggest that organizations consist of interrelated units and
when change occurs in one part of the system, the other parts will likewise be
altered. Organizations, like all open systems, are also intricately connected
to the external environment; and when shifts occur in the external environment,
the organization must change to survive.” (Proehl, 2001, p. 15) Ecology -
The branch of biology concerned with the relations between organisms and their
environments – provides us with helpful insight here. My intent is not
to trivialize the complex science of ecology. (For example, see Meffe, 2002.) Rather,
I use the analogy to emphasize the interrelated, interdependent nature of the
myriad elements comprising any complex system, including the nested systems
associated with any significant human services endeavor. The agency is not a static entity
with fixed relationships to other entities and elements. It is more like an
organism whose survival and success are interdependent with the survival and
success of many other organisms and elements in the incorporating environment.
Let’s extend the analogy. Think
of a human services agency as a complex organism. As we saw for potential
agency clients, the agency itself also has needs, problems, and vulnerabilities
beyond its individual capacity to cope. The agency is incapable of going it
alone. It is but one organism within a complex eco system and as such, it is
dependent on other organisms in the system and others are dependent on it.
Assuring the viability of the agency requires careful and continuous attention
to these interdependencies. What’s more, the system of interdependencies is
dynamic, itself reconfiguring and shifting over time.