How can systems thinking help your change programme?


SmallLogoWe are all aware of how difficult it is to deliver a change programme in our organisations. People don’t generally like change. Or, do they? Is it the change they don’t like, or the way the change is forced upon them? It is often more about the way the change is done, rather than what the change is, that is the problem.

You will find that systems practitioners do the following when they are leading change:

  1. We give people a safe space and an opportunity to react and articulate their feelings.

Many systems thinking methods and tools are aimed at allowing people to articulate their feelings. For example, we use “clean language” exercises so that people’s true feelings can be expressed. We try hard not to influence but to listen

  1. We respect different views and perspectives

We use diagramming techniques such as Rich Pictures to display different perspectives in a non-threatening way. They are made up of pictures and visual metaphors that allow feelings to be displayed without entering into a “he said, she said” scenario. They are extremely powerful and can often reveal things that, until the point of drawing the diagram, have remained hidden.

  1. We allow time to accommodate conflicting interests and we help people work through their understanding of the situation

This is a very under-rated exercise. It is extremely valuable. In my experience, people hate feeling that their interest in a situation is not as valuable as someone else’s interest. We help people to work through this by unfolding the complexity in a situation so that we all get a good understanding of each other’s interests. Just knowing that the other parties understand your point of view helps to dissolve barriers.

  1. We identify causes of failure in a situation

We don’t play the blame game! We use methods and diagrams to identify causes of failure in a situation. This takes away the usual blame game and puts the emphasis where it should be – on how they system is working (or not working, as the case may be). Blame is a trap that systems practitioners try very hard not to fall into.

  1. We believe in collective decision making

We don’t make decisions on our own. We believe in collaboration and coming to joint decisions (whenever possible). We don’t force our own views on others but work through the situation together with people so that we ‘learn our way forward together.’

That’s just a taster of what systems practitioners consider during a change programme. More to come in a later post!


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