Are you the limiting factor?

Senge tells us that, “To change the behavior of the system, you must identify and change the limiting factor” (Senge, 2006, p. 100).  This is a very profound statement when it comes to organizational change.  But on the other hand, it makes perfect simplistic sense.  If you are trying to move the dial and make a difference in your organization, it is important to identify what (or who) is holding you back from making those changes.  Here are some recent examples of identifying the limiting factors.

  1. I was facilitating a recent training class, and an answer was provided to one of my questions.  The answer was a deep seated philosophy that I have held on to for a very long time.  I started to state all the reasons why I felt so strongly about this issue and then it dawned on me, I might be the limiting factor to experiencing something even greater than what I had been achieving for many years!  I needed to get out of my own way and realize that there may be other possibilities.  Instead of holding tightly (and too righteously) to my previous beliefs, I stepped aside and let the dialogue continue.  I asked a lot of questions and forced myself to open my mind to new ideas.  In the end of the discussion, we ended up coming full circle and back to where I had been at the beginning of the discussion, but the learning for the people in the room was so much more powerful than if I had stood my ground on what I KNEW to be right.  I have started asking myself, “What if I am not right?” and sometimes I ask, “What other right ways are there?”
  2. In all organizations there are informal leaders.  These are the people that may not have a greater title, but due to their experience, their knowledge or their time in service- they have gained the spot of being an informal leader for others around them.  When this informal leader speaks, everyone is quiet and listens.  I was recently in a town hall meeting with a group of employees.  The obvious informal leader was very adamant in an opinion that had held true for many, many years in this company.  He was not backing down and was convinced that there was absolutely no way that a new process that was being recommended needed to be implemented.  It was apparent that he was going to be the “limiting factor” in helping others to get to see a new way of thinking.  I asked the group to step back for a moment and get back to the problem at hand.  What were we needing to solve?  What was the root cause of the problem? Could it possibly be that this solution may be one of the changes that could solve the root problem?  When one person does all the talking and there is not enough dialogue about other possibilities, you could end up getting stuck in the same old rut and not able to make the necessary changes.

These are just two recent examples of experiencing the power of limiting factors.  If we want to enact change in our organizations, we must be willing to dig deeply into the people, processes, standards, and structure and explore what might be standing in our way.  Innovation is what is going to keep our companies competitive and we will not be innovative if we are falling prey to the jaws of the limiting factors in our organizations.

When you look around your organization (including looking at yourself), what possible limiting factors do you identify? What can you do to influence your limiting factors to open up to new possibilities?


Senge, P.M. (2006). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. United States: Doubleday.

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