7 S Model LO30209

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 05/27/03

Replying to LO30201 --

Dear Organlearners,

Paul_Suzie Lawmaster <Lawmasters@comcast.net> wrote:

>I am attempting to use the 7 S Model as a vehicle for creating
>dialogue with clients as we co-diagnose their organizations and
>then determine what interventions will improve the whole system.
>Has anyone used this model and have you any nifty examples or
>illustrations to get across the view of systems and systems thinkng?

Greetings dear Paul,

Your request is very interesting to me.

The following information might be helpful to fellow learners . The 7S model
was proposed by Peters and Waterman (consultants at McKinsey & Co at
that time) in their book "In Search of Excellence" (1982). They proposed
that an organisation can be characterised by 7 categories:
   structure, strategy, system
as well as
   skill style, staff, shared values
The first three are known as the "hard S's" which can be identified and
formulated easily. The last four as the "soft S's" which are difficult to
identify because of continual changes in them. This distinction points to
a certain degree of complexity.

I have participated in many a dialogue on organisational development and
observed how models like the 7S or Knowle's enneagram help to guide the
dialogue. Why? Any model with SUFFICIENT COMPLEXITY can guide the course
of a dialogue. But how will we know that such a model has sufficient

Complexity in human affairs is the result of human creativity. To honour
sufficient complexity we have to search for what is essential to creativity. I
have managed to identify 7 patterns essential to creativity. I call them the
7Es (seven essentialities of creativity). They are:

liveness ("becoming-being")
sureness ("identity-context")
wholeness ("unity-associativity")
fruitfulness ("connect-beget")
spareness ("quantity-limit")
otherness ("quality-variety")
openness ("paradigm-transformation")
Any model which reflects these 7Es sufficiently, can be used to guide
organisational change or a dialogue on it. However, the 7Es may be used
themselves as a guidance. At present i am involved in a dialogue at an
organisation in which i stick deliberately to the 7Es.

The dialogue is a most powerful means to sustain the development of an
organisation and even leading it to emerge into a LO (Learning
Organisation). But to set up and sustain such a rich dialogue is a horse
of a different colour!

It cannot be set into action with a full blast of complexity right at the
beginning -- that will merely leave its participants lame all the way.
Using a model with sufficient complexity like the 7S is thus dangerous
because it may dampen the spontaneity of the participants. My advice is to
use such a model tacitly for the first few sessions. By this i mean that
whoever leads the dialogue, uses the model to get rich responses without
refering to the model itself during the dialogue. The experiences of
participants will then make them tacitly aware of the categories of such a
model so that in due time it can be presented to them.

Likewise a rich dialogue will seldom ensue on its own legs. It will rather
transgress into a discussion or even concussion of rigid opinions. This
will be detrimental to organisational development and should thus be
avoided. A rich dialogue rather needs a leader -- not a preacher or
dictator -- to be guided into a level of sufficient complexity after which
the leader can become an ordinary participant.

I do not know how it is in other parts of the world, but here in South
Africa it is difficult to set up a rich dialogue. For example, most
participants are afraid that their opinions will be ridiculed or kept
against them in future dealings. Many have also the mental model that any
influence on their opinions by hearing the opinions of others is not
learning, but a breach of their integrity. Some also feel that comments on
their opinions are critisisms on their creativity. Thus it takes several
sessions to get a rich dialogue going.

Perhaps the most difficult part will be to get the dialogue started! Too
many people believe that they are spectators rather than actors -- the
"lurker" sector. Getting them into talking is a difficult job and requires
great compassion by the leader. A harsh comment by a fellow participant
may easily force such a person into silence again. The leader should
immediately respond to a harsh comment by saying something in favour to
the initial respondent.

In one ongoing weekly dialogue for several years, i had been absent for
six weeks because of ill health. When i returned to the dialogue, i was
shocked how quickly it had fallen back into the old ways of a debate --
one member acting as preacher, another one schemer, another one as victim,
etc. I had to act quickly to get it back on course. But it left me deeply
under the impression how few people can maintain a rich dialogue.

My experiences are that very few people are tuned to systems thinking. It
takes a deliberate effort as well as an understanding of the importance of
systems thinking to get it explored. Furthermore, many of those few who
are aware of systems thinking, experience it as detrimental to their own
creative thinking. I don't blame them because many system models are too
simple to serve the interests of creative thinking and the evolution of
organisations. So i will suggest, just as with the 7S model, to work on
the systems thinking on a tacit level until a sufficient level of
complexity has been reached before actually articulating the systems

I wish you success on your important endeavour. It is great fun to
participate in a rich dialogue, apart from its strategic advantages.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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