Best Boss Minute | Today’s Problems Come from Yesterday’s Solutions

For the next few Best Boss Minutes, we’re going to focus on a body of knowledge called the 11 Laws of Systems Thinking. This comes from the work of Peter Senge — an amazing thought leader and teacher in organizational development and understanding systems within organizations.

So why is this important to you as a manager? Because oftentimes when you are facing a problem or an issue that you have tried in a number of ways to tackle — and it seems to go back to its original form, or it recurs over and over and over again — this is the kind of problem we often think of as a systems problem. It’s a problem that has more than one piece, and in fact, all the pieces together don’t even add up to the problem. But all the pieces interacting with each other is what we call the system or the system problem. So those are things like how to organize your staffing, how to organize a project, how to organize a program, and how to organize a budget. All of those have different pieces and are examples of system challenges or issues.

The very first truism, the very first law, is that today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions. And what does that mean? That means we often put into play what we think is an effective solution, and we find that it comes back to bite us in the butt. 

As an example, when I was working as a senior leader in an organization, and I reorganized my staff around different personalities and different skill sets, that was a good solution for one piece of the problem. But what happened over time was that it fell apart. Organizing your staff around an individual or individual personalities is not a sustainable system or solution.

Foster Systems Thinking

Really look into what systems thinking is. Do a little bit of Google search, a little bit of a TED Talk search, and really have a good understanding of how systems thinking works. And the reason that’s important is that you’ll better understand how to put in place solutions that are sustainable and where today’s problems don’t come from yesterday’s solutions. 

Emphasize Learning and Adaptation

Emphasize to your team that we are in this together in continuous improvement. Make sure that you’re critically assessing the outcomes and unintended consequences of past solutions. So you really want to start to nurture that in your staff. That idea that we are constantly going to be two steps forward, one step back. And that’s okay. We need to be okay with that rhythm of making mistakes, learning from them, and making small changes so we can start to really see sustainable solutions.

Foster Collaboration and Cross-Disciplinary Cooperation

This is a nod to your DEI work — your diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Do what you can to make sure that folks are understanding each other, able to bridge differences, and really work cooperatively together.

So give those three strategies some consideration as you’re thinking about how to combat today’s problems coming from yesterday’s solutions. 

Watch for the next Best Boss Minute, where we will tackle Law #2: The Harder You Push, the Harder the System Pushes Back.

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.