Systems thinking is often taught as a worldview in the belief that students will apply it automatically in their own context. And of course, most people become more insightful, creative, inclusive, strategic and win / win orientated in their personal capacity after an even short exposure to systems thinking.
If taught in an organisational context, it is assumed that exposure of a critical mass of employees to systems thinking (e.g. in the context of leadership or talent development) will change organisational culture and make it more successful. According to Biomatrix Systems Theory this is probably “half” of the truth. A change in ethos (i.e. worldview, values and beliefs) initiates a clockwise change process (i.e. an according change of aims, process, structure, governance, mei use and interaction with the outer and inner environment). However, the counterclockwise force of change associated with current governance, organisational structures, mei, process, aims and even ethos, resists the intended change derived from exposure to systems thinking. Thus, unless systems thinking changes the structures of the organisation, its effect on the organisation is limited. (See also the blog section on Benchmarking systemic structures and praxis.)
As a management consultant I also observed that different personality types seem to relate differently to systems thinking, which may also be of relevance to benchmarking:
- There are persons and organisations who espouse wholistic thinking without knowing how to apply it.
- Others are so wholistic in considering an issue that they never get to an action (analogous to “paralysis through analysis”).
- There are differences in taking up and reacting to systems thinking according to personality type. Based on the Myers-Briggs, Ned Herrmann and Benziger typologies I have observed the following:The (D) visionary / intuitive types and the (C) harmonising / feeling types are often natural systems thinkers, albeit in quite different ways and generally in a haphazard manner. The visionary types burst with alternative options concerning the future and are useful for creating the content of systemic designs. The feeling types tend to sense the pattern of the current situation (especially the ease and unease between people) and are good in surfacing problems and conflict, as well as managing change systemically and aligning stakeholders through design iterations (irrespective of the content of the change).The (A) analyst and the (B) organiser types tend to resist systems thinking as a paradigm (at least initially). However, once they understand and embrace it, they can become staunch supporters, applying it in a structured manner. Through them systems thinking gets entrenched in the structures and regulations of the organisation and maintained in its day to day operations.
- Similar cultural types that one observes in persons can also be observed in organisations (e.g. typology by Cameron and Quinn)
Using typologies, one could maybe benchmark culture, including systems thinking. (However, I do not have experience in benchmarking culture).