Donella Matthews: “A truly profound and different insight is the way you begin to see that the system causes its own behaviour”
Looking back in history, or did Napoleon create the French revolution, or did the French revolution create Napoleon, do great leaders cause wars, or do wars create the environment for great leaders to emerge? The same question can be asked of Organizations. Do leaders create organizations, or do organizations create leaders or the environment for leaders to emerge. This is a debate that has been going on for many years and will probably continue for many more. What we do know is that the organization takes on its own persona, or systemic structure. Not to be confused with the organization structure or organogram, the systemic structure not only pertains to the structure outside the individual, the nature of human systems is subtle because we are part of it. This means that we can being part of the systemic structure, we can influence and change it and this is the opportunity we need to seize to create the foundations for a learning organization. (1)
Systems mostly exist in the background, and aren’t obvious. We don’t normally see them, but rather feel compelled to act in certain ways when performing tasks. This applies to the home and business environments and impacts on our lives in a personal and professional manner. In the business environment, formal and informal policies can have a huge impact on delivery. As an example, if our policy is to review quality issues monthly, then all products with quality issues will be released for sale late.
The systems view shows that there are multiple levels of explanation in any complex situation. In ways, all are true, but their usefulness in delivering explanation is very different.
The event view is reactive and generates explanations like “Who did what to whom”. This is most common in our environments, both personal and professional and explains why reactive management prevails. Patterns of behaviour looks at trends when studying a series of events over a period of time, allowing for a proactive approach by being responsive to change. Systemic structure explanations are the least common, but the most powerful because they address the underlying causes behaviour at a level that those patterns can be changed. Structure produces behaviour and therefore changing the underlying structures will lead to different behavioural patterns. Changes made at this level are meaningful and lasting, so if we make positive changes at this level, we can stop events from reoccurring.
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(1) Thanks to Peter Senge “The 5th Discipline” for this content.