I do bang on a bit about systems thinking, but I believe these complex times demand this kind of holistic thinking, as opposed to the more mechanistic or linear type of thinking which we still tend to use as a default. Systems thinking is definitely an idea whose time has come. In an organisation, a group of people is a system, and one critical ability of an effective leader is systems thinking, or thinking bigger about the things that occur in the organisation. Systems thinking tells us that everything is connected and interconnected. Often, small, seemingly insignificant acts have ripple effects that generate wider positive results. The leader who thinks bigger knows this and looks for opportunities to make carefully chosen, yet simple, interventions within their organisations. Here are a few ST (systems thinking) Tips below to get you thinking…..thinking bigger to go further!
So how do you think bigger? I’ve shared these ideas before, but I think they bear repeating.
ST Tip 1: Address the patterns, not the individual incidents. Good leaders see the connections between things in the system. Whenever a difficult situation arises in your team or business, it is important not to see it as a one-off event. Think bigger and recall similar situations that might have occurred and how often. Can you see any patterns arising?
ST Tip 2: Foster a culture of innovation and creativity by generating collaboration. Good leaders know that a system needs a range of different parts to achieve its purpose. This means good leaders value people, for and not despite their differences. They know diverse styles and opinions add value to teams and organisations. Think bigger and view your team or organisation as a unit, rather than a collection of individuals, then ask yourself, “How can I catalyse all the resources within this unit to the best advantage of the whole?”
ST Tip 3: Be proactive-have those challenging conversations. Good leaders know that systems require a pro-active, not a reactive, approach in order to maintain balance or equilibrium. They can have the ‘difficult conversations’ with others while still maintaining positive working relationships. Think bigger and coach your staff to see the bigger picture too. It is important to start your conversation with the grander vision that everyone buys into. Greater productivity? More sales? People are likely to feel less defensive and more willing to change attitudes or behaviours when they are guided to see how their performance impacts on the wider organisation.
ST Tip 4: Be ambitious for the whole. Good leaders know that systems work best when egos don’t get in the way. Such leaders are highly ambitious, and they exercise this with great humility. Thinking bigger, this means they are able to be ambitious for the system, the team or organisation.
ST Tip 5: Use failure as a starting point for better performance. Good leaders are able to stand back and observe the system as if from a bird’s eye view. This means they are able to see ‘failure’ as a learning opportunity and to look at mistakes and failures as just a bunch of really useful information about the system. Think bigger and ask, “What does a failure say about the team or wider organisation?” It will enable you to take responsibility for the situation without taking the blame or shielding others from their responsibilities and accountabilities. Rather it means you can make the most of it.
ST Tip 6: Ensure your solutions take account of the whole. Good leaders know that imbalances in one part of their system will send ripples to other areas of the business. Tense working relationships can spread their effect like a virus. Think bigger when there is a strain in a relationship in your workplace. Try asking yourself who ELSE this will affect. Write down the names of the key people involved in the situation. Under each of the names write down 3 names of people who are directly linked to that person who will also be affected by the situation.
ST Tip 7: Be willing to be proved ‘wrong’. Good leaders are able to hold the ‘greater good’ as paramount, and are open to being proved wrong. Think bigger in a conflict situation; examine your own motivations and then try to stand in the other person’s shoes to think and feel as they do. This will give you more information about your system and about the other person’s intentions.