Peter Senge on Systemic Systems

By Christina Suter on Jul 20, 2019 at 07:00 AM in Business Issues
Peter Senge on Systemic Systems

I became familiar with 'the learning organization, and more specifically the 'systemic systems' of business through strategist Peter Senge who authored, The Fifth Discipline. Learning organizations, as defined by Senge are, organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire and where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspirations are set, and where people are continually learning to see the whole, together as a group.

Over the next few weeks I will be discussing a topic that involves the systems that affect and keep your business flowing. Senge argues that organizations need to discover how to tap into people's commitment and their capacity to learn at all levels. As small business managers, we should care about whether our employees have the capacity to learn on all levels is because we want them engaged in our companies. We want employees who are problem solvers and not automatons so that their creativitiy and ability to handle projects doesn't dissipate. We want to have a staff of people whom we can hand a project off and they can confidently see the project through to completion. 

Senge says that the structure in which people have to function is often non-conducive. When our employees have too much to do and little support or praise, they under perform. Every business has a business culture and your business should be one where your employees have an appropriate workload, support when needed, and praise upon project completion. From pet stores to athletic gyms you can tell the culture of the company when you walk in and your employees are the first people the culture should support and that environment is up to us as owners. 

Ideally, as a business owner you want to work on your business more than your business works on you or more than you have to work in your business. When you're working in your business, your business is bigger than you and is running you. Working on your business means you are able to take a step back from it, oversee and work on new prospects or aspects of your business. 

Senge says that people talk about being part of something larger than themselves and that they enjoy being connected to something and being able to generate or contribute to their company. Creating a business culture that makes them feel as though they are a vital part is the responsibility of us as leaders. 

"For a learning organization, adaptive learning must be joined by gerneative learning, learning that enhances our capacity to create."

Are you in survival learning or generative learning? Do you feel short on time, deal with clients all day long, or have more money going out than you have coming in? Those are signs of survival mode. Are you excited about what's coming up? Are there new things in development? Are your employees generating leads, completing projects, and is the business culture happy and supportive? Those are signs of generative learning and a generative business culture.

Systemic thinking examines the interrelationship between the moving parts in your business. Better systems will lead to more productive actions within your business. Senge says a small action can snowball for example, cutting your advertising budget will show you cost savings, but you will also see a decreased demand for your goods or services in the long run.

A systemic systems map can show you the key elements of your system and how they connect which will allow you a better oversight of your systems. In your business you're in the middle of the system and you can't see the big picture. When you're working on your business you have enough distance from the business and a bird's eye view of your business. Map out your systems with timelines of how much time each part takes so you can better understand your business' systems.