How the Strategy PitStop employs a management technique called ‘Systems Thinking’ to give managers greater control
As managers we can all to easily over-simplify the requirements of winning and growing. We focus on a small number of factors and attribute success or failure to them. The result is that some of the more complex factors we face stubbornly resist the simple solution and shocks and surprises result. But there is a solution.
Leading executive education programmes now equip managers with techniques to more rigorously analyse opportunities and challenges, as well as to devise more effective solutions and strategies. Principle among these is ‘Systems Thinking’.
Elsewhere we have taken the traditional approach to explaining Systems Thinking, here we examine it using the F1 model and metaphor at the core of The Growth PitStop™.
A organization is a system – like a machine with many parts. It is how those parts work together that determine the rate of success and level of growth. However our innate tendency as human beings (as well as managers) is to focus on some parts more than others.
Yet managers tend to fixate on just a few of the factors that contribute to success and completely overlook many more. All too easily one can deconstruct the machine and focus attention on a select few parts to the neglect of all of the others.
The risk is we pick the wrong parts to work on and even if they are the right parts by working on them in isolation we fail to recognize that their behavior is affected by (and in turn affects) everything else.
We are like a mechanic with one tool – perhaps it is a spanner or a screwdriver and we keep putting it in the same place.
On the other side of the car there is another specialized mechanic with a different tool and sticking it somewhere else. Nobody is coordinating the effort. A sophisticated & marketing machine needs a team of mechanics and a full toolbox.
So, where do managers focus most of their attention in the debate around performance? Well in it tends to focus very much on the person and the manager. But just as in Formula 1 racing, it is the inseparable mix of the skilled driver and fast car that determines performance and winning.
Focusing exclusively on people as being either the cause of problems, or the solution to them, raises questions about whether management is blinkered in its view. In particular it raises questions regarding the underlying patterns, systems and structures that really underpin current day performance and future potential growth.
Interestingly, in F1 there are two types of wins – the driver’s championship & the (car) constructor’s championship. That ensures it is not just about the driver – is also about the car.
In F1 a driver may move to another team and then the victory goes with him. The constructors championship stays with the car and the team that designed, manufactured and maintains it.
Great drivers know it takes a team to make the car go faster. Drivers who think that their talent is the only ingredient of success will struggle to enjoy sustained success.
The driver has to recognize that he or she is part of a system that generates either success or failure. That system includes; the car and its many parts (tyres, aerodynamics, suspension, controls, etc.), the engineers, the pit crew, the data analysts, the team mate, the testing regime, the fitness training, the team atmosphere and so on.
If you hear a driver complaining about their car then they see themselves as separate – they are pointing fingers at others rather than taking an active role in shaping their destiny and not just working in, but also working on; the system that can bring them success. The change in mindset brings with it new responsibility, as well as new empowerment.
The most successful drivers know that their skill alone is not enough to ensure success. They understand that there are many ingredients to winning and chief among them is a fast car.
A fast car (or high performing machine) is of course very, very complex. There are lots of parts.
Any race engineer will tell you that the challenge is not to get any one thing perfect, but rather to have them all working perfectly together. That is thousands of parts all working in unison.
Just as managers face competing priorities and trade-offs, so to do F1 engineers. Indeed, you will often hear them describe a race car as ‘a huge assembly of compromises’:
Recognizing the complexity and making the compromises is key. The people working on the front of the car and the back of the car had better be talking and listening to each other.
One of the demands that increased complexity places on an organization is increased teamwork and co-ordination. This is a challenge given the traditional hierarchical structure of silo-ed functions.
Would you like to see how the parts of a F1 car come together? In this short video all the parts of the Red Bull 2014 car envelop around Daniel Ricciardo as he explains the technology involved.