Thanks to our educational systems and majority of society teachings, systems’ thinking is promoted. Society and religion teaches every one to consider their actions to the consequence, systems approach. Beyond productivity there are many other benefits of systems thinking in organisations.
- Better team performance
- More engaged team
- Improved focus and alignment
- Seek Creative and integrated solution
So if it is taught in various levels and people understand the importance of systems thinking why is it systematically shut down in organisations?
Every organisation tries to contain employees in to a specific box in terms of job description, a job title, expertise etc. Organisational hierarchy designed in the early 1900’s is designed to fit this box perfectly for every employee. Every individual has been tasked to work on specific skill set and not expected to think beyond the role of duty.
If any one in organisation works on efforts beyond their job description individuals gets warning of stepping on other peoples shoes. As time passes the individual forms an area of expertise and a boundary of thinking. In due course individuals fall in to the trap of complacence with what is expected of them. This may be one reason why Master of Business Administration (MBA) students have complained about why the great theory which helps systems thinking can not be applied in their business environment. Some other issues that can be attributable to shut down of systems thinking are as follows.
- Personality issues
- Need for specialist work
- Lack of opportunity for lateral thinking
- Feeling of ownership in one’s job
- Job descriptions
Jesse Goldman of Rypple talks about the importance of feed back in MIX. Although feed back is critical individuals fall in to the trap of feed back on wrong issues. A systemic approach would provide direct feed back on issues at hand and how it indirectly affected the system that is worked on. Systemic shutdown of the skills might be a barrier that that prevents management innovation and innovation in general.
In the company I previously worked during a discussion with a commercial colleague regarding a customer issue a technical side of the solution was proposed. In addition to this I also tried to highlight how if some creativity is applied on the commercial solution the technical solution can be simplified and more effective to the customer. Even before discussing the benefits the idea was shut down due to the fact that the boundary for me to think was restricted to technical and my colleague thought the commercial side was his box of thinking.
- Organisational design (Structure thinking)
- Individual ego (Individualistic thinking)
- Sense of belonging (Rigid thinking)
- Need for specialisation
The barrier can be broken down slowly by creating a team that cares for each other. A team that cares for each other will think for each other.
Leaders should encourage and set the trend. When problems are tackled one or two questions on area that is not directly affected but part of the systems thinking should be thrown in to the team. Once the box is widened, team members will try to fit in to the bigger box. Gary Hamel in his book on the Future of Management highlights that people are not innovative because they are not provided the opportunity.
Here are some suggestions in practicing on re-activating systems thinking.
- Encourage employees to speak with other departments in the company
- Ask questions on the impact of the department to other divisions in every suggestion
- Encourage knowledge sharing
- Create an integrative team on projects with ultimate goals
- Encourage suggestions for solutions outside their expertise
The idea of systemic thinking is not a new topic. Eliyahu Goldratt has emphasised this in his concept of “theory of constraints”. Various other teachings in society and educational institutions stress the importance of systems thinking.