Best Boss Take 5 | Cause and Effect Are Not Closely Related in Time and Space

We’re looking at Peter Senge’s laws about systems thinking, and now we’re on the 8th one.

Law #8: Cause and Effect Are Not Closely Related in Time and Space. 

Remember, a system problem or a system challenge is one that has many moving pieces. It’s a problem or challenge that has shown up over and over again, you have tried to fix it and it has not really given you the results you want. If you’re facing a problem or challenge like that, it tends to be a system problem.

System Changes Always Have Lag

System changes have a lag in time. It’s the nature of the beast. When we’re dealing with a system change, and we’re having an impact, no matter how high leverage that impact is, you can count on a time lag. A time lag that happens between what you are doing and the results that you want. So you need to build that in.

Now, if you get a little bit more sophisticated around system thinking, you can start to map the system problem. When I do this, it impacts that. When I impact that, it impacts this, and it reinforces that. You can start doing reinforcing loops. It gets a little bit complicated. However, if that strikes your fancy, I invite you to Google that and figure out how to map your system problem. 

But for those of us that prefer not to map our system problems, an understanding of how systems work is really what we’re talking about here. So understand that 99% of the time, there is a time lag. Sometimes that can be a matter of hours. More often than not, especially when we’re talking about organizational issues and people issues, staffing issues, productivity issues, we’re talking about three to six months or more, especially in more complicated system problems.

Dominoes Don’t Always Fall Quickly

Imagine a line of dominoes. You’ve probably seen some of the videos on TikTok videos (or if you’re as old as I am, you’ve actually played with Dominoes and seen how that works). You push one, and the rest follow pretty quickly. But if we space the dominoes far apart, they fall more slowly. That’s like a system problem. You push one part, and the others change slowly, one after the other. It takes a bit longer. And if we don’t have the mindset, the awareness, the patience, the plan, the understanding… you might be disappointed because you don’t see the change happening fast enough.

Practice “And then what?”

When you’re trying to solve a system problem, always think about what will happen next. As each piece of the problem or the solution comes into play, ask: When we do this, what will happen, and then what? And then what? And then what? Now, pro-tip, don’t do this on your own.

If you can bring a trusted colleague, advisor, friend, or coach in to help you work through that kind of disciplined thinking, please do that. You can do this with your team as well, but it gets a little wonky because you have to facilitate and manage it. And we want your best thinking in there too. So if you have the kind of team that you can really be a part of the best thinking of that team, then, by all means, do it that. But don’t go at this alone. We tend to have a lot of blind spots around system challenges and issues. So it’s always good to get more voices in the room.

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.