The system, seeing from a different angle #agile #coaching #systemsthinking

Do you ever wonder why people are doing and saying things that seem to not make sense? That seem illogical? Seem irrational? And not, of course, what I would do in the same situation?

Welcome to life. Welcome to “we are all different” and coming from different perspectives. Different places. Different needs and expectations.

One way to help make sense of it all is a systems perspective.  We are all connected and all part of many systems. And each system is coachable. The system can change. Change is always possible.  I was honored to be a student of Lyssa Adkins (@lyssaadkins ), Michael Spayd (@mspayd ), and Marita Fridjhon  (@MaritaFridjhon ) in the Nov 2012 pilot session of Leading from the Next Level: Systems-Oriented Leadership™ for Agile Coaches.  It was a very important class for me, one that I learned so much from. It has taken me a few months just to process some of the learning enough to be able to write and share about it here.

As a senior leader in a global, high tech corporation I run across lots of situations that seem to be incongruous. That appear broken. And most of the time, in a traditional corporate sense, these are not “my issues.” They usually don’t fall cleanly within my “span of control.” They are generally systems challenges. Meaning that they are cross-functional, cross-silo, cross-organization…  Such challenges are often the systemic, entrenched, and the “way we do things around here.”

Even a new project or a new integration or new acquisition can run into these systemic challenges.

New meets old. And tension is created. Which brings us back to systems perspectives.

Here are the types of questions that I ask myself and others to employ this perspective…

What is trying to happen here?

Who are the players (stakeholders)?

What are the needs and expectations of each player (each part of the system)?

What are the relationships of the players to one another?

The organization is also a player – what are the needs and expectations of the organization?

It’s like a giant chess board. A game of empathy. Listening. Who needs what from whom? What matters to each part of the system?  Now, what questions, what open-ended questions can I ask to help the system repair. Repair, flow, change, move forward. What possibilities do I see? What are the possible highest dream outcomes. Notice the “s.”  We need lots of possibilities. Lots of Plan A, B, C, and D’s…and space for more outcomes to emerge.  What outcomes that *might* be possible? What else? What else? And if those outcomes are possible, what else might be true? Can I share some hunches (guesses)  with some of the stakeholders?  Can I reveal more of the system to itself? Without being too entrenched in one outcome myself?

One practical – that I learned long ago from Don Rossmoore, a student of Chris Argyris, is to start by interviewing stakeholders. Asking them what’s working well and what needs to work better…. Longer conversations. Lots of listening.  The question “what needs to work better” is especially important…it focuses forward. Much like Marshall Goldsmith’s Feed-forward.

Systems are all around us. Webs of relationships. Differing perspectives, needs, challenges. A systems perspective is valuable (critical, invaluable) in coaching a system to change, to flow, to be dynamic.


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4 Responses to “The system, seeing from a different angle #agile #coaching #systemsthinking”

  1. suzanne1953 Says:

    I hope whatever you learn can be extended to ALL stakeholders in the organization. Some parts of the same system are much more broken than others. Examples: some teams not have single sourcing; some teams must use waterfall apps for agile environments; telecommuters with domain knowledge and expertise are laid off in lieu of on-site newbies.

    • margaretmotamed Says:

      Hi Suzanne, yes that is exactly my situation, our challenge and goal is to form bridges across organizations, across teams with disparate methodologies. A system view helps us see the possibilities for collaboration, instead of blame.
      That is interesting about the SME / domain experts you refer to. Were they open to collaboration in your experience? Co-location makes collaboration easier, but it is not a guarantee of success in my experience.

  2. Carl shea Says:

    Very interesting! I too have been struggling with the larger system of organization. I am seeing much value in team level systems, and recognizing the third entity (Officially) It is funny, I had always sensed this, but Lyssa and Marita put it on the it is a real thing list…

    The techniques of the class such as, Designed Partnership Alliance (DPA), Meta Skills Wheel and other tools that were added to my toolbox, are very valuable!

    • margaretmotamed Says:

      Thank you for the comment Carl – the third entity (the system) is important to acknowledge! And I learned so much from the class…and fellow practitioners!

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