Iceberg of system thinking

Iceberg of system thinking

Hello, Habre! I am Denis Teplov, Director of Product at Liga Stavok, formerly Director of Transformation at MTS Fintech. I want to tell you about one tool today. He helped me once to understand how complex organizational systems are arranged, how to work with them, and most importantly, how to change them. We can say that this tool is a lens through which we can look at the world around us in a different way.

The tool is called the Iceberg of systems thinking and today we will talk about it.

The iceberg of systems thinking tells us that any complex system (which is any organization) consists of several levels.

At the lowest level – Mental models the first person of the company (CEO, Founder, Owner of the company, etc.). What it is?

These are the attitudes and accumulated experience that your CEO has carried with him throughout his life. This is his set of definitions of what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong.

It is from these mental models that any company is built. It kind of depends on what the Founder believes structure in the organization will be built, and which ones processes will be formed in it. Every founder of a company builds it for himself.

If in its settings it is laid down that people need to be managed with a firm firm hand and their work should be controlled at every step, then the structure of this company will represent a vertical hierarchy with a very specific set of departments, deputies, second deputies, chiefs, directors, managers, etc. . There will be regular reporting meetings, reporting presentations, performance review, flight debriefing, work audit, etc.

If he believes that people need to be given freedom of creativity, to encourage creativity, not to be scolded for mistakes, then you will like a flat organizational structure, with strong horizontal connections between employees, with cross-functional teams or a matrix reporting structure. You’ll have team planning, informal 1-1s with your lead, and a roadmap without hard deadlines.

If he believes that project management is good, then you will have project managers, Gantt charts, clock estimates and timesheets. And if you believe in a product approach, then you will have scrum teams, a/b tests and product research.

You get the idea.

Further, structure generates culture. And not vice versa. The organizational framework in which we have driven employees determines the rules and formats by which they will interact with each other. How will they make decisions, distribute responsibilities, resolve conflicts, and form new agreements.

In essence, culture is a set of recurring events, behavior patterns. What is reproduced every time by people in the company, in the expected manner and with the expected result. These patterns are what we read the culture in the company (and in any other social circle) from, thanks to which we can “read” this culture.

For example, you get a job in a new company, and you see that for every reporting meeting your colleagues prepare detailed slides, figures, analytics, deep data processing. The second or third time, you will understand “what is accepted here” (this is the culture here), and you will do the same. You consider this pattern (culture) and fit into it.

Or, for example, you notice that on team calls in Zoom, people do not interrupt each other and always “reach out” if they want to ask or add something. You will very quickly understand that if you go against this flow, not raising your hand and interrupting to ask your question – you will very quickly turn out to be “toxic”, “non-team player”, “a player who does not fit into the culture”. And vice versa, if the team should communicate freely and you can interrupt and ask questions on the go, then with a raised hand in zoom you will also fall out of the team and from this culture.

The final step of this pyramid is this Events (Events). Basically, this is any micro or macro event in the life of the company and its members. Kolya missed team planning, Fedya didn’t pass the code review, Tanya missed a bug in regression and went to production, Vitaly didn’t come to daily, etc.

At first glance, these are just separate events that just happen and you can’t do anything about them. And this is where the iceberg of systemic thinking is most important.

Each individual event originates from patterns of behavior (culture). Culture is shaped by structure. Structure is defined by mental models.

That is, any event in your system (company) can be unwound to the very bottom and get to the real reasons why it is happening.

For example, this is my real case. In one of the companies where I worked, I observed the following picture. I make an appointment with a colleague – he is half an hour late. I make another appointment – he is late again, I make an appointment for another colleague – the same, the third colleague himself makes an appointment for me – also late. And so it goes on all the time, and I am still a new person in the company, I do not understand why this happens, and I personally consider everyone who is late to be ignorant. But later I was able to dig up this “event”.

It turned out that there was an installation in the mental models of the Chairman of the Board. That he holds the meeting not until the end of the scheduled time, but until the result is achieved. And if necessary, the half-hour meeting was extended to 2 or 3 hours. Because of this, the calendars of all his vice-presidents changed and they were late everywhere. Further, their direct subordinates were also forced to constantly adapt and also be late, and so on in a chain for the entire company. As a result, the whole organization does not have a normal calendar of meetings.

What result can be drawn from this. It is impossible to systematically change an individual event in the system. It is necessary to untangle this ball all the way down the chain and look for the answer at lower levels. Starting mental models of SEO is, of course, not always realistic, and sometimes even utopian. But at least reaching the level of structure and processes will already give you a good result.

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