System thinking: meet an expert.

TIP-IM had a very interesting conversation with "System Thinking expert" Jean-François Berleur. As a consultant and coach, Jean-François specializes in setting systemic diagnostics, change & transformation management, Individual coaching and/or mentoring and design thinking.



TIP-IM: Do you notice general trends and developments in the way companies and teams have been managing in recent years?


JFB: Let's look at mega trends globally: there is less growth in the West and globalization is increasing the pressure on financial performance. This has so far been achieved through reorganization with the aim of cost-cutting. There's nothing to cut anymore today. Just look at what kinds of problems this has caused in hospitals, for example. So, there is a need for alternatives.


Secondly, urgent work is needed to save our planet: this is also seeping through to all parts of a company today and therefore also has an impact on management.


Thirdly, the search for a better work-life balance is more present than ever. One also attaches a greater importance to the meaning ("purpose") of what we do. Why am I working? This does not apply only to young people but to everyone.


Finally, the world of start-ups with the grateful use of technology is more booming than ever.


Change is needed and it’s coming! There are two options for traditional companies: either they stick to business as usual or they go for the “autonomous way of working”. The latter we call the “freedom companies”. With a no no-nonsense way of working, just as many small start-ups, they also become more profitable.



TIP-IM: Do you notice specific changes in the way companies work and manage since the start of the corona pandemic?

 

JFB

There is a lot of demand for other ways of working. At first, almost everyone thought working from home is ideal! But in the meantime, one also sees the other side of the coin. Working via Zoom and similar tools means that non-verbal communication and informal gatherings have been lost. Trust is often shaky and many people ask themselves: can I trust the others?


By not being visible or by being less visible, some must also find other ways to prove that they are working. This increases responsibility and pressure. Everyone suddenly becomes autonomous.


Because of less commuting, there is also less activity, people take it more slowly and that feels good. Many say: ”I don't want to work that much anymore.”


People also consume less and therefore indirectly have less need for hard work.


Once this crisis is over, many will go back to their old habits, but many will also come out of this experience transformed.


TIP-IM: How do you see this further evolving towards the future?


JFB

The companies of the future will have a "societal purpose", a utility for the community or else they will disappear.


Systems thinking is also becoming the new way of thinking for everyone. Crude capitalism is no longer of today, for it has little value for the community in its present form. It is difficult to know what is coming and whether it will be a gradual or an abrupt change.



TIP-IM: What inspires you about the concept of "self-managing teams"?


JFB

"Self-managing teams" is THE way of organizing the future.


It is a "no-nonsense way of working" with companies that work as networks of small teams (8-10 people; with more people, time is often wasted on coordination upwards). They work as mini companies, or start-ups. This leads to incredible growth and "best employer" employers. You can't resist that dream. It is unstoppable.


But the transition is not easy; You have to let go of your certainties! Let us not be mistaken: most people are naturally motivated to be active. Control is often not a necessity; on the contrary: control makes people less efficient, while giving people freedom leads to responsibility.


However, the transition takes time and effort. It's a different way of thinking.


Most people have learned to see things linearly over the course of their lives. We are taught that there is a cause and a consequence. A beginning and an end. We see a problem and a solution.


With this linear thinking model, we simplify things so that they fit into the thought process. But it's too narrow. It focuses on a limited number of aspects. It ignores the complexity of life. In reality, there is much more than a simple cause and effect. Yet, we believe that is all we need to know or understand.


We need to get rid of linear thinking - someone's unique behavior does not always have the same effect on someone else; depending on the individual, the effect will be different.

Not only is reality non-linear but it is circular - a person's behavior is influenced by its interaction with others, and others’ behaviors are again influenced by that person reactions. Reality is the result of many interdependent rational and emotional relationships and effects.


This view requires specific and broad skills that are often not available internally; it is also difficult to find the right competences externally, and this in a person in which you fully trust. Both competences and trust are however fundamental.

Not having enough trust in your guide can lead to CEOs to not following the advice as soon as things gets tough – and there for sure will be many challenges; and lack of access to the adequate competences leads many companies to engage in what they believe is a good approach to transition, but what is in reality inadequate. These factors lead too often to failure and the corresponding conclusion: "I knew this wasn't going to work."

 

These companies will however have no choice to either go for it or die.

It is much easier to build something new that meets these principles; rebuilding an existing business from within is much more difficult and all employees are going to face more difficulties gradually. And so incumbents will increasingly face competition from companies that start a new approach from scratch.


TIP-IM: Can a new (interim) policy or new breath of wind facilitate the transition?


JFB

Learning to “go TEAL” (cf. the book of Frédéric Laloux “Reinventing Organizations”) requires externals to guide companies. Many companies understand that and all professionals who do this type of guidance are on high demand.



TIP-IM: We can expect a wave of restructuring in the coming months. What do you think will be the impact on the way a company is managed?


JFB

Big question! This depends on the people; we're all different!


We are all seriously destabilized by the COVID situation; some have been so much under pressure that they have been forced to make a real change and achieve a new balance; others will return to the old ways. The number of people who really change for good will determine the speed of change.


But what is certain is that practices based on this other way of thinking - systems thinking based practices - such as self-managing teams, are increasingly emerging.



TIP-IM: Do you think that the health crisis will accelerate the principle of the project economy with temporary managers engaged in temporary assignments?


JFB

The evolution from employees to external self-employed persons working as temporary managers has been going on for a long time. With the rise of technology, this is increasingly the case. And companies need to change their ways of working even faster, constantly adapting to the situation.


But the transformations needed to cope with the emerging organizational revolution require specific skills. Temporary managers should, in my opinion, be consultants, coaches and entrepreneurs - in order to think along in this constantly changing world.

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