When a mistake or problem occurs in your organization, do team members usually blame a person? Or, do they take a step back and look at the system for answers?
“Instead of anyone pointing a finger at a person if things go wrong, with a system’s view, we look at the system to uncover answers,” says Lois Elrich, Vice President of Solid Blend Technologies.
Solid Blend Technologies is a service company that treats water used across commercial, industrial, and educational facilities. They’ve been applying a systems view to their business for more than a year and a half.
“We’re now taking that [natural tendency to blame a person] out of the equation,” adds Ken Elrich, President of Solid Blend Technologies.
As co-owners of the company, Lois and Ken were looking for a way to prevent problems in their operations. They were also looking for a way to make everyone’s job better.
Since implementing a systems view, people don’t take mistakes or failures personally anymore: “If it’s a failure, we know it’s either one of two things. It’s either the process has failed and we need to reevaluate it—or, the person working that process doesn’t fully understand it and needs clarity,” says Ken. “If so, it might be a training opportunity for that person.”
Looked at another way, instead of people feeling like mistakes are an issue of competence, people have shifted their thinking to see mistakes more as a quality control measure that can usually be improved.
Connecting the Dots to Show How Works Gets Done
Using a visual representation “connects the dots” and shows how work really gets done in the company. Ken and Lois see even more advantages and rewards in the long-run of this approach. “We feel that we haven’t even scratched the surface on the benefits to our organization yet,” says Ken.
“Involving the team in business mapping to make the work visible has strengthened our culture. You get more unity. Buy-in is huge in an organization, and if you have that buy-in, that means you’ve got a stronger culture.”
So far, Ken and Lois see two additional results of “connecting the dots” and applying a systems view:
1. Knowledge sharing can be maximized.
Everyone has their own thoughts, processes, and even ways of problem-solving, but that kind of knowledge isn’t always shared.
With a systems view, however, that information can finally be communicated and shared. That means everyone can gain value and learn from that knowledge as a result.
“When we are able to go through the systems view model on our whiteboards, everybody is able to put all of that—what is in their minds—onto the whiteboard. It’s really great to see everybody’s perspectives, different ways of thinking, and questioning, and having some push back, to really derive at one answer, so to speak,” says Ken.
“It’s about getting everyone’s mind out on the whiteboard, and we can then look at it, together. Then we can better understand it,” he says.
2. Greater alignment.
When you show how work is getting done and how people are approaching their work, you’re going to have greater alignment from your team members.
“Making the work visible brings much faster alignment. You can still talk about it, you can still create kinesthetic elements with the work, but [you’re] communicating much more clearly, and much faster,” adds Mark Thompson, a former Business Advisor with Aileron. Mark has helped Solid Blend Technologies in their business mapping sessions.
“If it’s visible, you have greater clarity, and everyone can be involved with it,” adds Lois, who says that seeing that involvement is also rewarding for her and Ken.
“Team members are also asking questions, and they are learning along the way, and then you have greater buy-in. Having everyone involved with it, and not just a select few, is important.”
This also helps to get more meaningful feedback (for individuals and for teams) about how things are getting done.
“As a creator of work, when I make the work visible I’m getting immediate feedback. So I can disassociate a little bit and look at my work. I can walk away, and come back, and I start to see things that I didn’t see when I was creating it,” explains Mark.
You Can Optimize How You Work
Improving your systems can rapidly accelerate growth and support organizational performance – but true change requires a culture that values systems thinking. Before you evolve your systems, ensure their sustainability by onboarding your team to systems thinking and learning how to build a culture that supports it in Explore Systems Thinking.
A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.
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