System Archetype 4: Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

System Dynamics & Systems Thinking
Knowledge Center


Aniket Deolikar
Consultant, India

System Archetype 4: Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

Description of Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

One of the System Archetypes is "Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor". Shifting the burden structure is very common in the case where outside help (intervenors, for example a consultant) is taken to solve the problems. The intervenors help in dealing with the problem symptoms with their methods and do that so effectively that internal people of the organization never get to learn how to deal with the problems themselves. This creates a dependency on the intervenors who may focus only on the temporary solutions to the problems as they might see only the problem symptom and not the root cause of the problem.

Early Warning Symptoms of Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

When your organization faces a problem and try to outsource it and the work gets done. But then, in some days, again another problem occurs and yet again you decide to outsource the issue so it is fixed. This is the time when you must know that this is the structure of shifting the burden to the Intervenor. Organizations should be aware that outsourcing may cost long term problems but they overestimate the short-term gains and underestimate the long-term costs.

Structure of Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

Management Principle (What to do?)

We should teach people to cook rather than giving them food. You should focus on improving the skills of your own employees and improve the resources and infrastructure rather than outsourcing a problem every time a symptom occurs. If the host system is capable of handling the problems, the solutions found for the problem would be long-term as the focus will be put on the root cause rather than only fixing the symptom. If outside help is still needed, then it should be strictly a one-time thing or it should help the internal people gain the skills or develop the organization's resources.

Business Example of Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

Suppose an insurance company comes up with an idea of decentralization and have independent local offices which would contact the headquarters staff only when there is a very important issue. Everything is going on fine until the industry goes through a crisis. As there were severe losses, the local offices call the headquarters staff for help in rewriting the rate structure, which is a process that takes several months. While the central managers are occupied rewriting the rate structure, the local managers are focusing on dealing with the crisis. When the crisis is resolved and the next time the rate structure has to be changed, the local offices again call the headquarters for help as they had lost the confidence to be able to do it themselves. After many years of this behavior, the local offices does not have underwriters who could deal with changes in rate structure by themselves and always need to "outsource" it.

Real Life Example of Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor

E-retail platforms depend heavily on 3PL logistics partners. In India, Flipkart was dependent on various logistics partners, but eventually decided they had to create a logistics division of their own. They acquired Ekart, a logistics services provider.
Another example of this can be when a services company outsources its services to grow faster geographically. But the service level provided by the intervenor may vary and that may also affect the customers' perception of the service.

⇨ Feel free to add more management situations which you might have faced and what you did to tackle them…

Peter Senge, "The Fifth Discipline – Appendix 2: Systems Archetypes", 1990.
William Braun, "The System Archetypes", February 2002


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