It is evident that isolated, short-term thinking no longer works. I hear many leaders say "I will control the things that I can." While this is a tempting way to think in our increasingly complex and interdependent world, it does not serve the organizations and systems that we are a part of. Bigger systems thinking is required.

Within Your Organization

Organizations are learning that operating in silos suboptimizes outcomes. There are almost no projects or processes that can be accomplished solely within a silo. Interdependencies, those relationships necessary throughout your organization in order to get the work done and the goal accomplished, must be recognized. Collaboration requires that we include others, communicate our planned actions, and assess the impact of our decisions across the organization.

Too often competing goals are established resulting in internal competition for resources for both people and material. In the pursuit of goals, leaders must recognize the interdependencies in terms of (1) resources outside their span of control required to meet those goals, and (2) impacts that their actions will have on others. Failure to recognize these causes friction (i.e., impediments to the energy and process of achieving goals).

Within Your Community

Now extend this thinking to systems within which your organization exists; other businesses, government, community, country, environment, the earth, etc. The same concepts apply. Your decisions impact this larger system, and conversely, these systems have multiple levels of impact on your organization.

When our focus is limited to within our organization, we are organization-centric. The fact that we, our organization and these systems, are interdependent has not changed; what must change is our recognition of it, and how we then deal with it. Isolated, short-term views of results and the need to feed profitability and growth keep our perspective small, our peripheral vision narrow.

In an increasingly global, uncertain, rapidly transmuting and unsettling business environment, organizations and their leaders will need a broader understanding what it means to do business globally and interdependently. Our focus must be as much external as it is internal. We must recognize we are a part of a larger whole, that we impact the systems within which we exist. Interdependencies exist, even though they cannot be quantified in short term financial models. They must be recognized, for the sustainability of our organizations and our world.

Are You Making the Best Decisions?

Are you making the best decisions under this broader view? A useful rejoinder is “Best for whom?" If within your organization you are optimizing only your department (be honest with yourself here), without regard for the bigger organizational picture, the answer must be no. If within your community (think broadly about the application of this term), you are optimizing the results of only your company, without regard for the bigger picture, again the answer must be no.

There are huge incentives for leaders to suboptimize. Leaders are generally compensated based on their own performance. Companies are rewarded for meeting and exceeding earnings targets for their own organizations. In both cases, interdependencies are ignored, causing increased friction within organizations, and increased disparities in the community and world.

Although critically necessary, the shifts required for change are not easy shifts to make. They both require culture shifts in the way we collectively think about issues and the way we think about our roles.

What Can I Do?

What specific changes are required?

  • Open up your thinking. Challenge yourself to see the bigger and bigger pictures.
  • Become aware of the culture that encourages small-systems thinking, so you can step outside of it.
  • Identify your points of interdependence (and there are many). Ask yourself "Who are the colleagues within this organization and community that I need to have proactive conversations with?"
  • Have those conversations, invite others into your vision for the benefit of the bigger system, and plan collaborative actions to move toward it.As a leader, assist others in moving to similar perspectives and operating in similar ways.

Is this easy? No. But it is one of the most critical shifts you can make. Think about it.

Barbara Osterman, founder and owner of Human Solutions LLC, is a business leadership consultant and cultural catalyst. She can be reached at 585-586-1717 and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . This article appeared in Business Strategies Magazine, June 2005.

Barbara Osterman
About The Author Barbara Osterman [Full Bio]
Barbara Osterman, founder and owner of Human Solutions LLC, is a business leadership consultant and cultural catalyst. She supports organizations in increasing business performance and results by successfully weaving business initiatives and culture transformations.

You don't have permission to view or post comments.

Quick Search

FREE Impact Analysis

Get an inside perspective and stay on top of the most important issues in today's Global Economic Arena. Subscribe to The Manzella Report's FREE Impact Analysis Newsletter today!