Systems Thinking Organisational Learning
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Systems thinking and organisational learning: Acting locally and thinking globally in the organisation of the future
There is a very important relationship between a company’s operational practices and culture with this being particularly important as the world market place rapidly changes. Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to change (learn) and progress at a pace which can keep up with the current speed of technological and knowledge advancement.
For example, this year alone will produce the equivalent of the last 5000 years of information in one year. Technology is moving so fast that what a graduate learned in year 1 of a degree course is out of date by year 4.
Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plant and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.
Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing “problems” as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to a specific part, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.
To learn more rapidly and increase flexibility in a World of growing complexity and change, firms are experimenting with new modes of organization, new reward systems, and less authoritarian values – for example, reducing hierarchy, increasing local decision-making responsibility and individual incentives and rewarding innovation. But local decision making and individual autonomy lead to management anarchy unless managers account for the interconnections and long-term side-effects of their local decisions. Laudable goals such as ‘empowering’ and ‘enabling’ individuals often prove counterproductive unless managers can act locally and think globally “when I walk outside my home and view what I see am I looking from my doorstep what is around me in a linear way or am I standing on the moon looking at the Earth as a global entity which is interconnected and having a combined impact on other things”. Managers must become ‘systems thinkers’ as well as better learners.
The dynamic systems perspective illuminates some of the core challenges in organizational learning. If learning occurs through experience, there are good reasons why organizations often fail to learn. In particular, large organizations face a class of systemic decision-making situations in which learning is extremely unlikely. The systems perspective teaches us that cause and effect are often not close in time and space that obvious interventions do not always produce obvious outcomes, and that long time delays and systemic effects of actions can make it almost impossible to judge the effectiveness of those actions. This presents a framework for organizational learning, outlining several breakdowns that thwart the learning process and opens discussions on how systems thinking can play an important role in helping organisations overcome the learning breakdowns through the design and implementation of managerial practice fields.
Read More Search: Peter M. Senge and John D. Sterman on Systems Thinking
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