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6 practical ways managers can use systems thinking every day

systems thinking

By  Elli St.George-Godfrey

Systems thinking is a dynamic model that recognises relationships are central to how companies function.

This model also supports the job of managers. It focuses how you prepare and organise yourself and your team, empowers your team to perform competently and keeps everyone focused on company-wide business goals.

What is systems thinking?

A system is a group of parts organised to achieve a goal. The parts are subsystems that perform certain functions to support the whole.

Each person in your organisation is part of a subsystem whether it is the leadership subsystem or the production subsystem. Each group is interrelated, and the interdependence makes the whole company work.

Practical systems thinking

Most of systems thinking in business is based on human relationships. For example, managers relate to people as part of their jobs.

Even if you are not in an organisation that espouses systems thinking, it is a useful mindset for you and your direct reports.

Here are six practical ways to use systems thinking in your business:

1. Identify your links within the company

Knowing where you fit into the overall system helps you network when your team needs specific resources, new members or to build positive relationships with others.

Suggestion: Schedule coffee meetings with various people across the company to get to know them better.

2. Identify your team’s links with other teams within the company

The English poet and cleric John Donne had it right when he wrote:

"No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

a Part of the Main.”

By encourage your team to give and take ideas, you will foster better problem-solving and more creative solutions to business problems.

Suggestion: Host a lunch every other month with your team and with other teams to foster these conversations.

3. Evaluate, measure and train your team to do the same

Aside from your regular meetings, it is also necessary to review your projects and evaluate the success of your projects.

Suggestion: Use monthly meetings to focus your agenda. These regular meetings should ensure everyone looks back and evaluates the effectiveness of their work.

4. Use accountability as a learning experience

Managers are paid to supervise so make this an opportunity to develop your skills and the skills of your team. Keeping the conversation open will also allow people to feel safe when reporting problems.

Coaching your direct reports to use accountability as a learning tool deepens their awareness of themselves and their expertise.

Suggestion: Facilitate both group and one-on-one conversations with a through curiosity i.e. “How is this project going? How did it go?”

5. Identify your needs and your problems before deciding on a solution

If you're scoping a new project clarifying the required resources (i.e. people, capital, time) and the potential problems demonstrates your emphasis on good communication and preparedness.

This level of preparation also encourages the team to develop those skills in themselves.

Suggestion: Before tasks are assigned, write a plan together about necessary resources, time estimates, potential obstacles, designated people and benchmarks to measure progress.

6. Encourage continuous improvement

Most things need iteration, and you should make adaptations rather than complete overhauls to whatever you are working on.

Suggestion: Use the “5 Whys” to encourage curiosity rather than blame. For example, ask why something did or did not work and follow-up this questions with more whys.

Why systems thinking is important

There is a lot more to understand about systems thinking, but using the basics will benefit you and your team.

As a manager, you will find that it helps you and your team understand the overall aims of the company as well as how things could work more smoothly.

Systems thinking also facilitates more positive relationships with your team and others in the company.

Finally, as a manager, applying the practical side of systems thinking supports your ability to organise, assign, measure and support the growth of each team member.

About the author: Growing a business locally or internationally takes a different mindset; the CEO Mindset. Elli St.George-Godfrey, a behavioural economics coach and founder of Ability Success Growth, uses her 3 Keys Coaching process to help business owners and executives in the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland to unlock the CEO within.

Elli’s market-proven coaching helps leaders and their teams develop styles and capabilities which enables them to collaborate and effectively join together to optimize the business outcomes. You can learn more at