At Spark Success we take a 3-Point Approach which includes appreciative inquiry, systems thinking, and values alignment. This article focuses on the aspect of systems thinking. We hear this term more often these days. What does it mean and why does it matter?

Have you heard any of these terms lately – systems thinking, systems approach, systems work? A system refers to the dynamic moving and inter-related nature of components in a system. When we look at the system as a whole, we can see patterns of interactions between the various components to understand the likely impact of making a change in the system. If, instead, we focus on one component in an organizational system such as an individual or a team, we miss the bigger picture and the impact that could create success. According to Peter Sengé “systems thinking focuses on how the individual that is being studied interacts with the other constituents of the system. Rather than focusing on the individuals within an organization, it prefers to look at a larger number of interactions within the organization and in between organizations as a whole.” In studying the dynamics within the various components of the organizational systems, one can more easily consider what one shift could make the highest value leverage point to move the system in the desired direction.

For example, when Spark Success does systems work in an organization, we prefer the ability to look at the presenting opportunity or challenge, who it pertains to, who else in the system impacts or is integrated with it, and what the patterns are. For instance, in looking at employee engagement, we do not look the engagement of one individual in an organization, we look at employee engagement in the in the team or organization, how leaders impact that engagement, how individuals themselves play a role, and how employee engagement then impacts the stakeholders with whom the organizational team players interact and whose business upon which the organization relies. An example would be when leaders provide clear purpose, values and expected behaviours, and consult with team members about them as well as support team members to practice the related behaviours, team members are more engaged. In turn, they show up differently with each other and with organizational stakeholders such as clients/customers. Because team members are aligned and fulfilled, they interact with each other and other stakeholders more effectively – more positive, solutions-orientated, and relationship-focused. They interact with each other better, are more productive and bring more ideas to the table.

If you are putting time, resources and energy into an organizational initiative, invest the time to understand the whole system, the patterns in what you want to change, and find the one thing you could focus the team on doing differently to be successful. This paves the path to success.


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