It’s the System, Not (and?) the People
I live and work with two phrases in my head that are important to me:
“It’s the system, not the people” – Deming
“It’s all about the people” – a statement heard often at Protegra that we try to use to guide how we work together.
An event this weekend helped me to understand these seemingly contradictory ideas. My brother (as coach) and nephew (as player) are participating in the junior varsity (gr. 9/10) provincial basketball championships. Last night I was able to watch them play in the semi-finals and could see both of the quotes above at work.
“It’s the system, not the people”
After an exciting victory by my nephew’s team, I overheard a conversation between two neutral parties as they did a postmortem on the game. In their assessment they agreed that both teams were skilled, gave it everything that they had, and played with passion. The main difference between the two teams was that the winning team had a better defensive system – not better players, but a better system. While the opposing coach did his best to exhort his players to play smarter, take better shots, make better passes, avoid the red beads, and play harder defense, ultimately they were defeated by a better system. They didn’t lose this game because of “resources” (coaches, players and refs), they lost to a better system.
“It’s all about the people”
Let’s look at the game from another angle. It was my brother the coach (a person) who researched, introduced, and taught the system to the team. It was the players (people) who bought into and committed to playing within the system. Both the offensive and defensive systems used by the team are well chosen and effective because they depend on teamwork and collaboration. Their systems require all of them to act together – if one person steps outside of the system it breaks down. The systems do not rely on one or two heroes but on the team as a whole. The systems require people to learn together, improve together, and be engaged together. The systems are all about the people. A pretty neat life lesson for a group of gr. 10 boys.
So, yes “It’s the system, not the people”, and yes, “It’s all about the people.”
“We believe it’s all about people. We believe by systematically focusing on people, treating them as the heart of organizational systems, that success will follow for all.” – Protegra.
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