The Benefits of Systems Thinking

By Paul Spencer

When you can recognize the interconnectivity of a process, it is easier to see the many possible interventions and solutions available for problem-solving.

In today's fast-evolving business environment, sticking to "how things have always been done" is a recipe for lagging behind. While processes can help us work efficiently, blindly following procedures can get us stuck in doing tasks no longer relevant to the current circumstances.

What if you could get beneath the surface of tactics, processes, and procedures to grasp the underlying structure so you can get to the core of how things work, anticipate what will happen, and shape the outcome?

By adopting "systems thinking," you can gain a deeper understanding of the interrelationship among the many different parts involved in every process and do everything more productively.

What's "Systems Thinking"?

Systems thinking is a unique way of understanding the interactions among the interdependent parts in a process so you can better manage it.

Unlike traditional analysis in which disparate elements are examined, systems thinking takes a holistic approach by considering how different parts of a methodology balance and reinforce the process to affect how the system behaves as a whole.

Often expressed as a causal loop diagram (CLD), systems thinking helps us become aware of the circular nature of the conditions we face and the consequences of our actions.

The Benefits of Systems Thinking

By changing our perspectives, asking different questions, and adopting a holistic view of managing work processes and workplace dynamics, systems thinking offers the following benefits:

By optimizing the interactions among other elements and becoming output-focused, you can simplify the steps involved in a process and eliminate unnecessary tasks to increase efficiency and productivity. Meanwhile, as you understand how and why processes are defined, you can isolate the components and effectively target specific improvement areas.

When you look at each task in terms of inputs and outputs, you can also take a step back from the day-to-day activities and consider the entire ecosystem. Such trans-disciplinary understanding creates a holistic view that helps you consider all angles and unlock creativity to develop new approaches to solving problems and achieving results.

Systems thinking provides an awareness of the cause-and-effect that every action and reaction within a process. This awareness allows you to validate short chunks of work upon completion. This awareness also encourages an iterative approach that poses fewer risks than doing a large amount of work without knowing if it's heading in the right direction.

By looking at the various elements in a process, systems thinking helps you understand each step while maintaining a holistic view to avoid a siloed approach. Meanwhile, chunking down cumbersome procedures into discrete tasks enables you to improve time management with time-boxing techniques.

The feedback loop can help you leverage the synergy and interconnectivity within a workplace so you can respond more nimbly and become more creative and productive. The circular nature of an ecosystem also encourages us to seek out feedback proactively while embracing complexity, which is essential for uncovering opportunities in today's business environment.

When you expand your thinking and articulate problems in new and different ways, you also open up more options for solving problems. As you develop the ability to anticipate how your choices affect other parts of the systems, you can make better decisions by minimizing your decisions' impacts and trade-offs or even use them to your advantage.

Moreover, systems thinking is a valuable tool for communicating how processes work, particularly within teams or departments. For example, CLD is a powerful visual tool to help identify, describe, and share how each component within a system interacts with each other to create a specific outcome.

Tap Into the Power of Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is most effective in resolving important chronic issues. Analyzing past solutions to problems can provide insight into each system's element and how they interact with each other.

But first, you need to change your mindset. Effective adoption of systems thinking requires curiosity, clarity, compassion, and courage. You need to embrace choice and open-mindedness while willing to resist the "easy route" of simplistic or linear view.

When you can recognize the interconnectivity of everything you do, you also see the many possible interventions and solutions you have at your disposal to become more productive and resourceful.

Resources

Download this System's Thinking worksheet to help you understand your systems. [Download]