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Jim Benson


Business Starts With Social and Succeeds With Respect

Systems thinking is almost always exactly the right thing to do

Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - 12:01

If you are reading this, you are likely human. Congratulations; I’m human, too.

Everyday we all wake up and wonder what the day will bring. We wonder who we will meet, what conversations we will have, and what we will do.

We all want to do things

In business we have processes, we have bureaucracies, we have rules.

We also have hopes, dreams, and expectations.

I*(Fuel+System) = Value

Each individual in your organization is there to take fuel (i.e., hopes, dreams, and expectations) and use the system (processes, bureaucracies, and rules) to create value (stuff people need).

Businesses are made up of people, working together, to achieve profit and success. They all want to realize those expectations, learn lessons, and remain in business.

No company is made up of autonomous, self-organizing units. Successful businesses are, however, often made up of mutually supportive, self-organizing units.

This extends from the individual to the team to the group to the division to the corporation.

It is a nested social network of value creation. As anyone who has watched the rise of the internet can tell you, social networks are powerful drivers of value, change, and action. At the heart of the social network is the individual. A person who collaborates with another person, persons, or groups. A person who wakes up every day wondering what the day will bring.

Your working systems drive your culture, which drive the products you build, your time to market, and your relationship with your customer.

Tonianne and I have built our careers on this relationship. Yes, your team is fractured; your organization is low-trust; your work flow has clear but unsolved bottlenecks... why? Usually because you focus entirely on the work and not the people.

When we work with groups we apply systems thinking, which traditionally teaches us to look to the system and not the individual for the root cause of problems with behavior or social breakdown. This is almost always exactly the right thing to do. Those edge cases are simply that: edge cases.

But systems thinking cannot ignore that the people who are in the current system have needs and expectations that have or will become dreams deferred. They will or perhaps have become cancerous. These side-effects of historic lack of respect therefore show up as resistance to change, even when that change is clearly positive.

It is clear that the social system of the organization and the procedural system are not separate. We need to balance our examination on the processes and the people. Not to blame, but to ensure that the new systems we create take into consideration who is working in them.

No one in this group is working alone.

Using a variety of proven tools, not the least of which is simply listening, it is possible, perhaps even not-difficult, to get organizations to work both efficiently (easy) and effectively (much less easy). An effective organization learns, quickly reacts to changes in the market, and values coming to work.

During the next two weeks, I will present tools or techniques we use, or simply tell some stories depicting how we pragmatically and systemically include the individual in creating an effective organization.


About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.