System blindness

Why systems blindness impacts neurodiversity

Sam is a middle-aged neurodivergent individual in a small boutique design and consultancy firm with a global reach. Sam is an experienced business development professional with a strong track record. When he started working for this firm, he was effectively employee number three. He joined the two founding partners who had worked together for over 20 years. Sam could not work out why he was unable to perform. He was doing the tasks he thought he was expected to do based on his earlier work experience. Is Sam experiencing systems blindness?

Clear Is Kind. Unclear Is Unkind. Brené Brown

We are often blind to the way systems shape the way we think about ourselves and the environments that we inhabit.

Systems blindness often causes stress, anxiety and lost opportunities to engage and enable individuals to be their most effective at work.

Systems influence the way we perceive the world and the way we perceive others. This can often result in distorted views about relationships with other people because of the way we are bound up in the systems we work in. If we were able to step outside of the systems that we inhabit, step outside our workplaces and the relationships we have within them, it would be very different.

In the workplace we are often in several types of systemic relationships, these include vertical top to bottom, horizontal end to middle to end and internal external supplier to customer relationships. These relationships exist because of the tasks and roles that we carry out. Unfortunately, we are often blind to these relationships and their implications as many of us do not see the world like that. We instead see only from our narrow point of view.

Where we are sitting right now?

These systematic relationships often influence where power sits within our organisations. For example, in the top to bottom relationship, power often moves to the top disenfranchising the bottom.

System blindness can go to a whole new level. If you are unaware of the system and the social rules, this can affect neurodivergent individual as they may have low awareness of these systems and how they work.

In Sam’s case what became clear was that Sam’s expectations were very different from his employers in terms of what he should be doing and how he should be doing it.

This came down to expectations and unwritten rules. The systems that this organisation had been using were perfect for the two founders, but for someone new they were unclear and difficult to negotiate.

Navigating systems blindness

Working with Sam gave him the opportunity to help understand what was important to his employer and how he could shine by delivering the basics first and then adding value later. This started with painting a picture of what the systems within Sam’s organisation looked like. This included positioning where the power sat and what power he had in terms of managing his own workload and responsibilities. There was also an opportunity to explore the unwritten rules of the organisation and how he could engage with them to help him be his most effective at work.

Being clear about the rules and our systems is kind, being unclear is unkind!

If you would like to explore how systems affect your organisation and how to navigate them, please get in contact.