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A moment to reflect - Lang et al's Domains

A moment to reflect


On this blog we discuss a number of models and approaches to leadership including ‘double-loop learning’, ‘organisational defences’ and creating the right environments for change, amongst others. What each of these approaches have in common is a requirement to be consciously aware of the situation at hand and the range of viable responses available.


One mode we call on quite frequently is Lang, et al’s (1990) ‘domains’, which distinguishes our thoughts, actions and interactions into domains, enabling an assessment of what’s being requested of us and what, under the circumstances, could affect the best response. Does the situation require a clear and decisive answer, as in risk or safeguarding situations, or does the request offer an opportunity to explore potentials and expand the perspectives available to form solutions? Our responses tend to favour the former, even when this isn’t necessary, which could serve to shut down discussion and exploration and limit our individual and collective responses to ‘what we already know’ or ‘the way we do things here’. To miss the opportunity to explore alternatives results in limitations of individual and organisational growth as we stick to the known, safe and familiar.


The domain of production is the one we’re all most familiar with. Here, we see thinking which is premised on notions of ‘right or wrong’, ‘black or white’, ‘one truth’, a mindset that is focused on rules and regulations, targets and getting things done.


On the other hand, the domain of explanation creates space to explore curiosity, doubt and diversity. It promotes the role of reflection and appreciating complexity. The domain of explanation insists that more than one thing can be true at once.


The differences between these two domains is clear, but it’s important not to assume one is right and the other wrong. Both have their role to play in the way we assess the situations before us and respond.


The domain of production, as mentioned above, is important for making decisions, responding to urgency as well as drawing things to a close or conclusion.


The domain of explanation is useful for taking a step back, bringing other people into the conversation, exploring alternatives and potentials and expanding the scope of consideration.


Once this exploration has occurred, we can move back to the domain of production to decide on the course of action required. In doing so we can see the relationship between the two domains.


For a number of reasons, including cultural demands to be seen to be productive, decisive and reliable, we tend to favour the domain of production, even in situations where we could afford a moment to step back and use the domain of explanation.


On the surface there’s no downside to this. As managers and leaders, we can convey the image of being dependable, reliable, trustworthy, responsive and competent. In most situations this is satisfactory. However, in our everyday experiences, an over-reliance on the domain of production tends to limit our growth, reduce our exposure to learning opportunities and keep us embedded in familiar, safe and static ways of thinking and responding.


And this can have wider implications for personal, professional and organisational growth and development.


In our collaborative knowledge networks, we encourage, through learning, as well as specific reflecting groups, opportunities to develop the art of stepping back, reflecting and becoming aware of the chance to consider the alternatives as a way to embed learning, development, growth and continual improvement.


In doing so, we can all develop the capacity to demand a moment to reflect



Lang P. W et al (1990) The Systemic Professional Domains of Action and the Question of Neutrality; Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation & Management vol 1 pp39-55

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