What is systems thinking? How can it provide a helpful hand in the alignment of your business or organization?
To understand the concept of systems thinking (and that of systems theory and systems analysis), you need to know what a system is. Most people are familiar with different types of systems – a monetary system for example or even an operating system. In general, a system is made up of a collection of organized parts that can be integrated in order to accomplish a common end goal. There are of course subsystems that can make up the larger system.
Within your organization, you have administrative staff, products, groups, and individuals that make up the organization; that is, they make up your personal system. Changes in the system can affect its overall condition and goals – the company founder or CEO leaving, a new addition to the company, etc – can change the scope of the organization and create the need for alignment.
What systems thinking does is help someone view a system from a broader perspective; that is, looking over the structure, patterns, cycles and more of the system and not a particular event within the system itself. This broader view can help quickly identify the underlying causes that may be within the system itself. A glimpse into where alignment may be necessary.
When you focus on the system as a whole, multiple problems can be addressed at one time, which can result in an overall positive effect. This positive effect is called a leverage point. An example would be a communication problem between your company’s departments; communication is not being effective enough for people to get ideas or projects across, as well as not being able to respond effectively in their part of the project.
Many companies would react to this by maybe implementing better presentations or email communication solutions. While these are solutions, they may be designed to fail, as it only addresses the event. Systems thinking begins by looking at the patterns of the lack of communication.
By understanding the patterns and making the necessary changes not only for the affected departments but the entire company, it in turn makes communicating better for everyone involved. Now think how much more powerful systems thinking would be when you apply the principles of alignment.
David G. Peterson is a business consultant and author of Handling the Remedy. He has extensive international experience managing projects and operations for large financial institutions. He has worked in North America, Europe, Middle East and Asia skillfully managing business and technical requirements, core systems enhancement and support, merger and acquisition integration's, business process reengineering, off-shoring and outsourcing.