People to Systems
System thinking more understood in lay terms as persons to systems comprises of a remarkable understanding of our approach to changes and situations in learning organizations. It is vital to any organisation and conceives the base for team work, process designs, quality time management and personal development. In order to understand the application of the concept of system thinking we need to first learn the origin and development of a system.
What is a system?
A primary collection of several sub systems associated together in order to achieve a desired goal is called a system. In simpler words it involves various smaller channels working together, directed towards an outside goal to reach. Systems range from mechanical systems involving motors and devices, ecological systems namely the process of photosynthesis, the biological system which is basically human body functions and the social systems dealing with exchange of emotions and relationships. These systems range from simplicity to complex matters, all engaging in meeting their specific needs. The complex systems are what are made up of a number of sub systems or smaller channels, constantly exchanging with each other and the surrounding environment to work towards the ultimate goal. The sub systems maintain a balance and correct their position while reaching their goals.
Principle of Systems Thinking
It was in the initial years of the century that Systems thinking was established as a result of complexities faced with engineering and scientific technology. An independent perspective was required to study complex situations as traditional thinking could only solve smaller issues. Thus the need for an independent study arose and systems’ thinking was developed. This perspective does not only deal with the sole objective study on hand but also does a detailed study of the inter relationships between the several sub systems and sub systems by themselves. A study of the subs with their surrounding environment is also done.
In a natural world, events are a product of behaviour and it is not the events that create the behaviour. It is mainly the interaction between the sub systems that results in the behaviour thus traditional thinking could dampen the real learning of events. Their focus would be on patterns of behaviour and on specific events to predict future behaviour or past happenings. It would be a “fixation on events”. Whereas in Systems thinking, the focus is on a bigger, broader perspective. It studies the entire organisation as a business cycle, as a whole structure, as a group of several entities and the relationship among them. This manner of investigation and study will help highlight the primary problems, and thus result in long term and permanent solutions.
The book The Fifth Disciple written by Peter Senge , who is known to be an authority in the field has formulated a five point formula for learning organizations. They are:
- A culture of Systems Thinking
- Attaining Personal Mastery
- Working with Mental Models
- Building Shared Vision
- Team Learning
What is a Learning Organisation?
Watkins and Marsick (1992:118) defined Learning organizations as - characterized by total employee involvement in a process of collaboratively conducted, collectively accountable change directed towards shared values and principles.
Learning organizations are where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspirations are set free, and where they are continually learning to see the whole together. (Senge 1990:3)
People and Systems in an Organisation
An organisation is made up of several entities or sub systems of which human resources account for a large percent. The debate remains whether an organisation can discount their employees to systems and yet sustain the processes and have a successful business functioning. The value of people is existent but how much can business depend on them? Is it the people’s performances that determines the functioning or does it rely on charismatic leaders? Over the years there has been a transformation of the process of recruitment in human resources where overheads have changed to the acquiring of assets. It is considered to be a vital gift in the knowledge era where the organizations have processes to determine and measure employee’s knowledge.
“Organizations dependent on charismatic leaders often can’t be sustained if the leader leaves but it also does not mean they are doomed but they need to understand its limitations and compensate for its liabilities”-says Jim Collins, author of Good to Great.
Belief that people are vital to a learning organisation ascertains that their collective learning capabilities can together achieve a competitive edge in the market. Thus in a Learning Organisation with a good system approach, developing a knowledge eco system, high work performance along with motivated and highly talented and qualified individuals cannot choose one over the other . People and systems go hand in hand for a successful creation of an organization.
Practising Systems Thinking
An organisation cannot learn until their employees learn says Peter Senge. According to him the concept of Personal Mastery is the primary foundation of a successful learning organisation. The learning organization has two components. One to define the goal to achieve and the other is to measure the degree of how close one is to the goal. Here the term ‘vision’ is of a more appropriate usage where the organisations goal is not immediate or limited to the next few years but has a long term goal to achieve, a ‘vision’ that the people see the organisation in.
System thinking is the need of the hour today in learning organisations. Problems faced today are mostly complex and involve several sub systems, mostly due to wrong actions and decisions of the past. In situations where the organisation is at a downfall or decision making is decentralised, the employees at every level must find a new approach to solutions. Employees at every level must take initiative and ownership to understand the ineffectiveness of the obvious solutions and must make an attempt to tackle complex problems using a higher level of thinking.
Individuals practising Systems Thinking will see a change brought about in their overall thinking processes be it personal or spiritual. They tend to stop seeing themselves as independent or isolated entities but start feeling connected to a part of a bigger ‘whole’ system. In the same sense of the term, systems thinking when applied in an organisation will make employees feel a part of the bigger organisation sharing similar visions to achieve.
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