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Simple Systems Thinking Practices to Make Complex Problems Easier to Solve

February 21, 2012

In times of change and turbulence, leaders need tools and processes to help comprehend and communicate complexity. As a leader, adopting a Systems Thinking approach allows you to more effectively perceive your organizations in terms of critical and highly interrelated work processes . To help you become a stronger System’s Thinker, may we suggest the following practices:

  1. When things go wrong, we tend to seek out individuals or groups to blame for the problem. While in fact, more often than not, problems are due less to individual failure than to the systems and processes the individuals work within. When things go wrong, therefore, try shifting your response from “Who’s to blame?” to “What was the process for doing X, and how might we fix it so it doesn’t break down again?” If you examine the process and find nothing amiss, there’s always time at that point to hold a specific person or group accountable for the problem.
  2. Hold regular “debriefs” at key milestones of projects and other initiatives. Design these as open-ended sessions in which all participants are invited to share their experiences, their views of what went well and not so well, and their recommendations for the future. Make sure that all observations, learnings, and recommendations are recorded and distributed after the debrief.
  3. Use the tools of quality management and process redesign (such as flowcharting, process mapping, statistical process control, and root cause analysis) to analyze process problems.

Practicing thinking of your organization in terms of interconnected work processes will help you support the successful implementation of new ideas, ensure that the right people are involved on specific projects, and document critical action steps and organizational learnings.

Was this information helpful? Post your thoughts, comments, and suggestions. And stay tuned for more exercises, tips, and tools designed to help you become a more effective leader.

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