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Esther Derby helps create great work places where people can do their best work and make products their customers value. Not so very long ago, she made her living writing code. She's co-author of Behind Closed Doors Secrets of Great Management and Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. You can read more of her thoughts on management, organization, teams, and agile methods at www.estherderby.com Esther is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 73 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Seeing System Problems: Expand Your Field of Vision

06.10.2013
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One of the biggest mistakes people make is attributing system problems to individuals (and individual problems to the system).  If you try to solve the problem on the wrong level, you are doomed to fail.

Here’s a simple yet classic example of trying to solve a systemic problem on the individual level.

Bob Sutton recently posted a piece on Team Guidelines. (I have some other reactions to the post, which I’ll cover some other time.)  The list starts with Show Respect, which includes “Show up to meetings on time.”  One can deduce from this that people aren’t showing up on time for meetings–hence an exhortation to individuals to be respectful and arrive on time.

People showing up late for meetings is a common problem; I see it in almost every organization I visit.

When you look at the problem on the individual level, and as disconnect events, it limits the range of solution options. Thus the ground rules, feedback directed at individuals and the non-solving of the problem.

"Show some respect!"

Showing up late for meetings is an individual matter of respect.

But if you want to understand the problem, look at the shape of the problem across the system:

A wider view of the "late to meetings" problem.

A wider view of the "late to meetings" problem.

A wider view shows interconnections, complexity, and effects beyond a single meeting. From this view, the “showing up late” problem has much more serious effects than annoying and inconveniencing other meeting participants.

Taking a wider view shows that “showing up late for meetings”  isn’t a trivial matter.  Maybe if more companies took the broader view, they’d actually try to fix the problem, rather than telling people to “show respect.”  For the most part, this behavior has little to do with intentional or unintentional disrespect (an exception described here, again, thanks to Bob Sutton).  We’ll look at that another time.

What are  you missing when you miss the wider view?

Published at DZone with permission of Esther Derby , author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)