This article is the first of a two-part series.
Elevate your strategic perspective when you engage in systems thinking as a manager.
“Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing ‘patterns of change’ rather than ‘static snapshots.”– Peter Senge
When transitioning to a new organization or another role within a company, we typically view the hierarchy – the organizational chart – to gain a high-level grasp of the business. While it may be the first stop, it should not be the only view.
Instead, engage in getting a systems view of the organization; that is, holistically understanding how the interrelated parts of the organization (the business functions) come together to achieve a common goal (Rummler, Brache, 1990).
The systems view considers the unique relationships between an organization’s business functions, workflows, hand-offs, and more, rather than focusing primarily on the organizational hierarchies that can lead to silo, seemingly stand-alone operations. This holistic view refers to systems thinking – considering the inputs, processes, outputs, and outcomes with ongoing feedback loops within and among the parts of the organization.
Why Embrace a Systems View
Change is constant. Examining the entire organization within the proper context (enterprise, division, department, or work group) and managing from a beginning-to-end perspective establishes a better chance of executing change effectively.
Additionally, a systems approach minimizes tendencies to sub-optimize the parts of the business at the expense of the whole; that is, preferring to position one part of the business to achieve exceptional success at the detriment of another business unit or the entire organization. If there is a decision to optimize a function, it is an intentional decision considering end-to-end impacts.
As a leader, when you embrace systems thinking, you consider upstream and downstream impacts. As a result, you collaborate across the company with those inside and outside your immediate network. Doing so allows you to design, develop, and implement initiatives and solve problems that have all-inclusive effects.
A Systems View of Organizational Relationships
The following is a simplified depiction of an organization as a system. The diagram reflects the business inputs, processes, and outputs, including significant functions, clients and customers, products and services, relational connections, and workflows at some level.
While your organization likely has different dynamics, this graphic will prompt you to consider your company’s horizontal rather than vertical view, activating systems thinking.
Call to Action
Consider the following:
❓How might you enhance your leadership by integrating systems thinking?
❓How would systems thinking change how you lead people and manage resources?
Here are additional resources:
Rummler, G. A. & Brache, A. P. (1990). Improving performance: How to manage the white space on the organizational chart. California: Jossey-Bass Inc.