The Change Agent As Relator

The first question that a RELATER might want to ask : “Does this group of people really act like a system?”

Of course, the “non system” or chaos circumstance is the worst case scenario, but contemplating the non-system can clarify a number of issues which stand in the way of constructive problem solving, regardless of the “problem” or the set of concerns that initiated a change action.

What do all these people have in common?

What do they really care bout (Stage 0 and Stage 1 together)

  • individually?     
  • in clusters? 
  • all together?

What unites them?

What divides them?

Do they have a history of working together on solving problems?

  • is it a good history? 
  • a bad history?
  • or somewhere in between?

The RELATER’s first order of business is broadly to bring people together, to make a system where there was no system.

Four broad tasks stand out:

  1. Help them acknowledge their common history,
  2. Help them resolve on specific actions to come together,
  3. Help them to begin to articulate common goals.
  4. Help them to develop a shared identity


Relating to the "System" as it is

The figure suggests the main sets of actors who have to be brought together. We can also think of these sets of relationships as being vertical and horizontal.


Perhaps the most common and the most difficult relationship to cause problems is the top-down. In the typical organization, there is a presumption that the leader or chief executive is the decider, the one who sets the goals and decides how the goals are to be accomplished and by whom. This is a false concept of how most organizations actually function when they are functioning well.  As the figure suggests, the RELATER should examine this top-down relationship as it applies to the executive group, the middle managers, the work force, users (e.g. customers, students, patients), and external stake-holders (stockholders, sellers, governments, etc.)


The “boss” role is problematic in many respects, but one of the hardest issues is getting honest and accurate feedback from the various lower layers of the system. A large part of human relations is getting upper levels to listen to lower levels and to engage in genuine dialog about what is going on, how people feel, and what needs to be changed to make the system work better.


Within each layer of the system there are bound to be tensions and misunderstanding, jealousies about pay, work load, and relative recognition for performance. A human relations agent can be brought in just to work on these issues, organizing inter-departmental sessions, and engaging in other activities as suggested under Stage 1 in the Stages section of this web site.

With the increasing digitization of many organizational functions, member inputs and outputs, test results, costs and receipts, many human relations tasks can now be supplemented and assisted by reams of data, often referred to as “analytics.”  There is an inherent danger in this trend to rely too heavily on numbers, which may not tell the whole story about what is going on. In the worst case, the data may bring the user or the leader to what is really going on.


It is worth noting that human relations issue may also involve members of the system interacting with outsiders, such as suppliers, customers, stockholders, or stakeholders of various kinds. This requires a somewhat different kind of human relations, probably including sampling and surveying


The human relations change agent will typically have the mind set of helping  one group relate to another. However, the agent is also a part of the picture and has to be sensitive to the fact that he or she also has a relationship with each of the other parties, and this relationship also has to be nurtured.


The figure above might also serve as a starting point to construct a matrix of  relationships within a system that might need improvement.  The RELATER might identify key system members and clusters on an XY matrix, estimating how strong each pair seems to be and how much relating effort might be required at what level of urgency. Then refer back to the several types of actions suggested in “Stage 1” in the “Stages” section of this web site to develop an action plan.

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