How to Think Systematically in Silos-Driven Organizations

Organizations are unlearning how to think systematically.

They face higher complexity than in the past but – instead of trying to make sense of their problems in terms of wholes – they split them down into parts.

This is how they reinforce unconsciously silos over unity. They look at one problem without understanding the wider relationships of each part.

The Iceberg Model by Michael Goodman is one of my favorite tools to guide systemic thinking in organizations and learn from negative events or performances.

This model has four layers: the surface of events, patterns of behavior, structures, and mental models.

The Surface of Events 

The first layer, which is the surface of events, refers to what we see happening in an organization— the tangible events like meetings and emails. 

The Patterns of Behavior

The second layer is about understanding the patterns of behavior that exist in this environment—how things happen, who makes decisions, etc.

The Structures

The third layer, the structures, refers to structural forces in an organization—what organizational structure or processes are in place that shapes the way people think and act. 

The Mental Models

The fourth layer is about mental models—the invisible rules which form our attitudes and beliefs about how things should—or should not—be done.

Here’s an example of a simple and typical application at work:

Event: I delivered a mediocre report

Patterns: I deliver poor outcomes when I am normally stressed and worked too many hours

Structures: My company encourages employees to work extra hours and stick with challenging deadlines

Mental models: career and competition are integral parts of our identities so we need to work and push hard to stand out from others.

This model is a terrific tool to learn from events by pushing us to search deeper into our mental maps.

By changing them or adding new ones, we can create different behaviors and results.

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