The concept of systems thinking involves a holistic perspective in order to comprehend intricate systems.
If you are a reader of The Systems Thinker®, you likely have a basic understanding of the advantages of utilizing systems thinking in the workplace. However if you are not and even if you are interested in exploring alternative perspectives for solving business issues, you may be unsure of how to effectively apply these principles and tools.
A real world example
The subsequent real workplace experience aim to assist you in getting started, whether you are seeking to introduce systems thinking in your company or implementing these tools in an organization that already embraces this approach, or you are just curious!
Many years ago, I was presented with a remarkable opportunity to work alongside the corporate organisational development office, with support of two senior professors at a red brick university, of an Multi Product Insurance company in United Kingdom.
As a young professional, I was absolutely thrilled to embark on this exciting adventure of being employed by a large company, particularly in a field that I am deeply passionate about. Within the division, I was the youngest senior manager, having previously worked my way through various field management roles, which granted me a strong command of how the business worked and a profound understanding of the culture. Early on in my tenure, the division’s vice president approached me with a project that focused on addressing productivity and service quality issues within the company. Perhaps it was my unique perspective a young manager relatively inexperienced senior manager that led him to seek my involvement. Given my youth and non-traditional status, I initially felt apprehensive about tackling such a complex and significant matter within a large organisation.
I also had concerns about persuading the executive leadership to embrace the recommendations of a young and inexperienced manager like myself. Looking back on this experience, I now realise that I instinctively adopted a systems-thinking approach to drive organisational change and development, even though I didn’t have the terminology for it at the time. Instead of trying to impose my recommendations on the leadership, I took a different approach.
I crafted a compelling and comprehensive case for a completely different approach to performance evaluation within the company. I mapped out the interconnectedness and causality of various factors, presenting a holistic view of the situation. Furthermore, I posed thought-provoking and introspective questions that guided the leadership to independently arrive at the desired conclusions.
An Examination of Systems Thinking and Organisational Change and Development
Systems thinking is becoming increasingly popular as a comprehensive approach to implementing organisational change and development. By utilising systems thinking, various fundamental concepts and practical tools can be employed to gain a better understanding of the intricacies within each organization. Numerous definitions of systems thinking can be found in academic literature. As highlighted by Ross D. Arnold and Jon P. Wade in their recent article, systems thinking can be described as a systematic way of thinking about systems. Organisational development refers to the context, focus, and purpose of change within an organization. Furthermore, a recent definition of organizational development states that it is a critical and science-based process that assists organizations in enhancing their ability to change and achieve greater effectiveness by developing, improving, and reinforcing strategies, structures, and processes. Ultimately, successful organizational change and development necessitate a mindset rooted in systems thinking and an interdisciplinary, holistic approach to addressing complex organizational challenges.
Systems Thinking encompasses six core themes that enable a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics within complex systems.
Although systems thinking can be considered a talent, there is ample supportive theory and a wide range of tools available for its application. What Does Systems Thinking Involve? Leyla Acaroglu, an educator specializing in systems thinking, highlights six essential elements for cultivating a systems thinking mindset: interconnectedness, synthesis, emergence, feedback loops, causality, and systems mapping. Interconnectedness and synthesis pertain to the dynamic relationships between different components of a whole, emphasising the process of achieving desired synergies within a company. This includes embracing the concept of circularity, which necessitates a shift in mindset from linear to circular thinking. Similarly, the notion of emergence relates to the outcomes that arise from the nonlinear interactions among system elements. In the workplace, this often manifests as the interplay of organisational politics and competing priorities. Leaders who adopt a systems thinking mindset view this as an opportunity for fostering collaboration and driving innovation. Balancing and reinforcing feedback loops within an organization provide guidance for making adjustments as we gain a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of system elements and their outcomes.
Additionally, causality refers to the flow of influence between interconnected parts within a system. By comprehending the cause-and-effect relationships and directionality of these elements, we can develop a more comprehensive perspective on the fundamental components of the system, including relationships and feedback loops. In the workplace, skilled systems-thinking leaders establish and effectively communicate mechanisms for multiple feedback loops to their employees. Furthermore, they discern between correlation and causation, leveraging data gathered from feedback loops to enhance workplace practices. Lastly, systems mapping serves as a valuable tool for systems thinkers to visually identify and analyse the various components and relationships within a system. It aids in understanding the complexity and interconnected nature of the system, enabling more informed decision-making and problem-solving.
In today’s business landscape, organisations operate within intricate ecosystems that are characterized by interconnections and constant feedback loops. To navigate these complex systems, organisational leaders rely on mapping techniques to develop adaptive strategies. This allows organisations to effectively respond to changes within their ecosystems and make real-time adjustments as needed. Systems thinking offers clear benefits to organisations by helping them accurately frame complex problems, which are often misunderstood when using linear thinking approaches. It also presents alternative avenues for improvement in terms of both internal and external connections. By embracing systems thinking, organizations gain a significant advantage in their ability to embrace change and achieve long-term business sustainability. While it does require a certain level of talent and a deep understanding of complexity and ambiguity, systems thinking can be successfully introduced and utilized to strengthen organisations.