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From Chief to Systemic Thinker

Ravi Resck 29 de July de 2021

The path to self-management it is liberating, but also full of pitfalls. In this text, we will address one of the most complicated transitions: how a person in a position of authority (coordinator, manager, director) can be reunited within a company that is seeking to distribute authority and create more self-organized teams, applying systemic thinking. In other words: how to be a great manager in a company without bosses.

Systems management, not people

Organizations (and companies) are social systems, that is, patterns that emerge from the network of relationships that are established between individuals, groups and institutions. We can analyze them in the light of this idea considering the different roles (or positions) as elements, which also relate to the people who play them. Most managers look at people (one of the elements of the system) as an isolated part, without considering the influence of the other parts. Applying systemic thinking in this context also means looking at the relationships between the elements. Here are some examples:

Suppose Loris (individual) is a marketing analyst on the team you are managing. Loris starts to miss some deadlines and fails to deliver a project that is important to you. What do you do?

  1. Fire Loris
  2. Make a conversation to give good feedback
  3. Aligns expectations better
  4. I don't know… Little information to evaluate

Most managers go in option (a), (b) or (c). In addition to the cognitive biases that can hinder this analysis, you may be ignoring Loris' relationship to your role (marketing analyst) or to the rest of the system. Loris may be unmotivated with her marketing work. This makes observation “does not meet deadlines” a property that arises from the relationship between it and the context in which it lives, not just hers. That is, if you chose option (d), a good investigation of the social system can begin with the following questions:

  1. How does the practice called “term” operate within this system?
  2. Which are the real functions that the “term” comply with the system? And what would it be like if the system opted for another practice (s) to meet the same needs?
  3. How does Loris relate to the practice of deadlines?
  4. How does Loris see this role? Is she clear about expectations, why and how her work can be done?
  5. How does Loris relate to others in the organization? Are there any veiled conflicts?
  6. How does the role relate to other roles within the organization?
  7. What changes can be made to the structure of roles and agreements to help experiment with new ways of delivering value and expressing the purpose of the organization or team?

Don't blame yourself if you fell into that trap. Traditional management leads leaders to look at people as an isolated and separate cog from the rest. Consider that you have a chance to become a systemic thinker, who does not attribute characteristics to the elements without a good reflection on how the other elements influence what is being analyzed.

Focusing on managing the system instead of managing people implies that you are no longer responsible for all the failure (and success) of your team or the career of each one. By the way, it may no longer make sense to call your team. Better to refer as just the team.

Failing to look at individual performance makes room for a new relationship with error, guilt and responsibility. And also with power, which we will see next.

More power with the other, less power over the other

Distributing authority implies that after adopting self-management, some will have more power and others less. In general, those who had a lot of power over others have less. Still, it is common for many to report feeling more powerful after adopting a social technology like O2. How is this possible!?

This apparent paradox exists because power can be divided into two types: power over the other and power with the other. In self-management we seek to maximize power with the other and minimize over the other. It is in these circumstances that a collaborative environment really flourishes.

For you, going through this transition from chief to systemic thinker probably involves developing a different relationship with this topic. It can even indicate that you need to review your personal identity and associate success more with how you can enhance collaboration than control people. It is a new type of influence, in which you start to act more on the environment and less on individuals.

The good news is that you can still be very powerful. Only in another way.

Several paths are possible

The paths to this transformation are numerous. I list here the 3 most likely:

Transformation agent. In some cases, managers are so enchanted with the topic that they become agents of transformation, actively promoting change within their companies. This usually takes the form of playing the role of facilitator in one or more circles, or acting as a mentor supporting other participants. In this case, it is worth deepening the approach being used (Organic Organization, Holacracia, etc.) and also many readings on organizational design.

Workshop de Autogestão

Assume roles in the “operation”. When we started to apply self-management in a team or organization, we carried out, together with a group, a translation of the current structure into the O2 language. This involves describing different roles that participants in that group play, including yours as a manager. In addition to people management activities (which are radically altered and simplified in self-management) and the role of External Link / Lead Link (described in the next section), a manager usually performs several others. Maybe you play a role Product Owner, acting as an interface between the customer and the internal team. You may be responsible for setting general product prices and conditions. In any case, an always available path is simply to abandon people management activities and go deeper into the technical roles you play. We put the term “operation” in quotes, because these roles can be of great importance and prestige for the organization, not just “execution”.

External Link / Lead Link. The most common path when starting to adopt self-management using social technology like O2 is for you to assume the role of External Link (O2) or Lead Link (Holacracia) in one or more circles. There are similarities and differences between a conventional manager and the role of the External Link, as well as several pitfalls that you can fall into. In this text we explore this path a little more.

Originally written by Davi Gabriel da Silva and published ON HERE

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