Launching the shiftN Papers
Walking the systems talk, as a team
Reflecting on the experience of working in a fluid organisational setting
The shiftN Papers (TSP) is a publication centered on the shiftN experience. ShiftN is (so to speak) a boutique consultancy based in Belgium. For the past 25 years we have operated as a loosely structured network of professionals. We do not claim to possess the ultimate blueprint for self-organisation. But there is no doubt that our attempt to sustain an ethos of place-seeking and chosen accountability in a web of collaborative relationships has been a learning opportunity for all involved. We don’t pretend to have achieved anything more. TSP offers a canvas to reflect on this experience. Only authors with first-hand experience of shiftN — as collaborator, partner, friend, client, delegate — are invited to contribute to the publication.
Let’s start, in this introductory contribution, with the basics. shiftN is a company, a legal entity in the particular shape of a cooperative. As a company we engage in a market place. We might position shiftN in the niche of ‘strategic decision-making and organisational change’. By and large, our clients are in search of novel ways to understand their own ‘business’ and they want to organise themselves in a way that helps them to realise this evolving mission.
In response to the need for fresh ideas and new organisational practices, shiftN has developed a distinctive offering. We sell this offering as services, on a ‘time and materials’ base. People hire us to deliver a package of services within the contractually defined and time-bound framework of a given project. We basically charge a fee for the time required to deliver these services. This is a very traditional consultancy model. Distinctive, we like to think, is the we way we offer our services. Clients appreciate the clarity and elegance of the ideas that we bring to the table, the capacity to guide complex strategic discussions between multiple internal and external stakeholders, and generally the ability to deliver on spec and on time. Typical is also the flavour of our thinking and our ideas. We talk a language which is informed by systems thinking. In general terms, this body of knowledge has emerged in response to the question of how to deal with change and complexity. This fits nicely with the strategic and organisational challenges that our clients are dealing with. Our website provides an evolving window on the variety of assignments we are working on.
Systems thinking, however, goes beyond thinking. It is first and foremost a way of acting and being in the world. Therefore it is better to speak about systems practice, or systems-thinking-in-practice. Our collaborative experience is an element of that systems practice. Moving along in a fluid organisational setting, guided by a minimum of rules and confronted with an ever-changing environment, appeals to our capacity to see and experience the world relationally.
Ideally, this publication grows into a variegated tapestry of testimonials and reflections on what it means to be part of the shiftN ecosystem. The aim is to hold a mirror to ourselves and for others to contemplate themselves in our mirror.