You have to love a book on business that uses SWAT teams to make business points, don’t you? Timothy L. Johnson‘s book SWAT: Seize the Accomplishment tells the tale of our hero, trying to lead a dispirited, skeptical team that needs to solve difficult issues. And doing it while being undermined every point along the way by a politics-playing, nasty manager.
Just like real life.
Timothy shows us the principles of his work through these stories because they allow for a little dramatic license — and people remember stories, not dry theory. This story teaches us the need to do Systems Thinking in our work to solve problems. Indeed, many business problems are caused by single systems not working — and by multiple Systems Not Working Together.
And the SWAT team angle? It turns out that SWAT teams, whether they are formally practicing Systems Thinking or not, need to perform in very precise, coordinated steps with no wondering about what’s next. They need to secure an area, capture the bad people in the area, and protect the innocent lives in-between. Then turn around and figure out what went wrong and what needed improvement.
I’ve had a great time this past year as Timothy has posted some of his work with the local police SWAT team in his hometown. Plus he’s been able to take (I was going to say “shoot”) pictures of some of the SWAT practice sessions he’s shared. All the while wondering how all this bad-ass stuff was going to fit into his next book.
Fit, it does. The story is perfectly readable and along the way you get good insights into Systems Thinking and how they apply to real business situations.
Systems Thinking is the premise that there are inputs into the work you do that gets transformed into outputs from your work. You can examine it on an individual level, a team level and then take the same concept to other departments. Your output becomes someone else’s input.
All of these inputs to process interact with each other. Plus, multiple processes interact with each other. Hence the need for Systems Thinking; nothing really happens in isolation.
When you complain that another department isn’t getting you accurate information and you make errors because of it, you have an input into your job (your process) that isn’t working. Or, if you had twenty people doing a job and now there are ten because of layoffs with the same volume coming in your door, there will be a significant strain on the system, not to mention you.
What Systems Thinking does is focus your attention on your outputs, then work back along the process to your inputs to see where systemic problems lie. Usually, unfortunately, we just identify a problem, implement a fast solution and not understand the impact on other business processes. “Why did that department change it? Now we have twice as much work to do…”
Instead, see how the processes interact with each other and figure out how to do them best.
Systems Thinking isn’t happening
In the Great Recession, the need for good Systems Thinking has never been more needed. As companies have lopped off divisions, pared back operations, changed credit policies and laid off millions of workers, what were inputs and outputs to systems have significantly changed. I doubt management has had enough time to really analyze what the company’s processes are now, much less if they have Systems Working All Together. As an employee, you are paying the price.
Timothy’s book is a timely reminder that we can’t really improve our businesses (or job satisfaction) until we embrace Systems Thinking into our work. Without it, all we do is solve one problem — and cause two more.
Cube Rules Rating: ***** Five Stars — Go buy it!