How to Establish a Systems Thinking Mindset on Your Team

How do you cultivate long-term commitment on your team?

Many teams today are not really teams at all – organizationally, structurally, and motivationally they are not set up to work as individual parts of a larger, unified whole. Often they reflect outdated organizational charts that have little to do with current reality. There are times when a leader realizes their team is actually a collection of individuals who are looking out for themselves. Left in this state, a team can actually become a divisive and damaging cancer to the organization.

Is it little wonder, then, that leaders seek help in cultivating commitment within their teams? The problem isn’t necessarily with the team members or leaders themselves, but what the team is being asked to do: work together without any larger sense of organizational direction or purpose.

If your team needs a boost in commitment, consider establishing a systems thinking mindset on your team.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Leadership Equation, by Eric Douglas

What distinguishes the most successful organizations?

What do the leaders and managers in these top organizations actually do?

In this fascinating book, entrepreneur and business consultant, Eric Douglas, paints a clear picture of what happens inside high-performing organizations. He reveals a simple but profound equation: Trust + Spark = Leadership Culture. Leaders and managers are most successful when they focus on building trust and sparking innovation.

In The Leadership Equation, Douglas expands the equation into the 10 most important practices for building trust and spark. As Douglas clearly shows, when trust and spark combine, leaders improve the performance of their team, their department, and the entire organization – and, ultimately, reach their own full potential.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Entrepreneur and organizational consultant, Eric Douglas, wants leaders to realize the importance of engaging in systems thinking, and in turn, leading their teams to do the same.

“Systems thinking” is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.

Today, systems thinking is needed more than ever in the increasingly complex world we live and minister in. It is all too easy for organizations to break down despite individual brilliance, because they are unable to pull their diverse functions and talents into a productive whole. 

To achieve a leadership culture, the power of systems thinking needs to spread throughout the organization. Systems thinking teaches us to appreciate how a decision made in isolation can negatively affect others.

We teach our clients to see their organizations holistically, asking them to look at it from five systems perspectives – strategy, governance, performance, process, and people.

Strategy – From this perspective, you focus on the long-term trends affecting your organization. You respond positively by thinking about the long-term use of your resources and how to focus to achieve your most important priorities. You respond negatively by focusing too much on factors beyond your control.

Governance – From this perspective, you focus on the system of decision-making that controls the direction of your organization. You respond positively by thinking about governance and being very specific about delegations of authority. You respond negatively by blaming people for making misguided decisions when the system isn’t clear.

Performance – From this perspective, you focus on systems for measuring performance, first at the organizational level, then to departments, teams, and finally to individuals. You respond positively by deciding which metrics and targets to track at each level and what communication systems to use. You respond negatively by paying too much attention to individual cases of poor performance.

Process – From this perspective, you focus internally on the process of producing value, measuring effectiveness and efficiency. You respond positively by thinking about how to improve the individual components of the process. You respond negatively by singling out specific individuals for not managing a process consistently or efficiently.

People – From this perspective, you focus on your system of hiring and rewarding people. You focus on how to get the right people on board and how to develop them in their roles. Your respond negatively by selecting and promoting people based on arbitrary factors.

– Eric Douglas, The Leadership Equation

A NEXT STEP

Your leaders want to be on a winning team, and teams are most successful when they are innovating and executing around consistent systems. The art of developing systems thinking is found in the organization of your actions and attitudes and the realization that each perspective needs to be measured against every other.

At your next team meeting, list the five systems perspectives above on a whiteboard or flip-chart. Choose a recent leadership team decision and take that decision through each of the five systems perspectives, asking for each, “what worked?”, “what did not work?”, and “what would we do next time?’

At the conclusion of this exercise, sift through the why behind those response to begin to develop a set of guidelines that will help your team see the positive benefits of systems thinking while avoiding the negative consequences.


While all too often teams are “teams” in name only, individual commitment to a larger whole is an integral part of the success of any organization.

By engaging in systems thinking, leaders can help their teams maintain commitment and accomplish their Great Commission call.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 12-3, published April 2015


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

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