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Systems Thinking for Leaders

You may or may not be aware of systems thinking in the context computer science (in fact, I was introduced and began to see its value in my Computer Information Systems masters degree), but I actually apply systems thinking to every encounter at my organization. In other words, I think, “How does my output impact the whole?” The answers to these questions can impact processes, communication and even available resources.

I think of my team and I as one of the many functions of the system (organization), with Marketing, Support, Engineering, Product, Services, etc., being other inputs. What inputs are required by my team to produce engaging output? What must I provide to other functions in the system? These are questions of input vs. output. Consider the high-level diagram below.

An older sample system diagram I made for my organization

Looks complex, doesn’t it? Think of the grey arrows as inputs and outputs that require process and communication. If any grey arrow is not present, that is indicative of an organizational gap. If any grey arrow is missing or not fulfilled, it is imperative to seek out why. It could be an issue of lack or process, technology or even resources. The great thing is ensuring each function is fulfilled in the system is a team effort, so it’s not something any one person has to go at alone.

Of course, these inputs and outputs will depend on several variables:

  • How your training/enablement/development department is structured
  • How your overall organization is structured
  • What roles are available on your team and the expectations of those roles
  • Your industry

Also, relate each of those grey arrows to one or more of the 4 Cs (Communication, Collaboration, Content, and Conclusions). Usually, the Training function has all of these as inputs and outputs (grey arrows).

How does your organization apply the systems thinking approach?

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