Most of the times, we long for the one perfect solution to a problem. And having graduated in the fields of mathematics and engineering, I think that this desire is quite legitimate.
But well (unfortunately), the problems we are faced with in our daily working routines are often not of a mathematical or scientific nature: the simple principle of cause and effect does not apply here. Mostly, we cannot predict the effects a certain behavior of us or a measure will have. We are dealing with people, with systems – well indeed with organisms. And if we are honest with ourselves, we surely know that we are not able to calculate these systems as they are no mathematical equations...
What can we do when the world is not that simple?
In my view, we can only recognize that our company, our organization or our team is a living organism, which means: a system. The agile movement around Scrum and Kanban also refers to the systemic approach from the outset. The systemic view results in three additional solution approaches with regard to the scientific causal approach based on cause and effect.
- Control system logic: Assuming that we all interact with each other, I will normally look for a solution approach for one of my co-worker’s or employee's “misbehavior”, which, in my view, creates a problem with respect to my own behavior or my own communication. In simple terms, this means that if I communicate differently – for example dominantly rather than cooperatively, then this behavior is not expected by my co-worker and he or she will, in turn, automatically adapt his or her behavior. I cannot say beforehand whether this leads to the desired result, but it will lead to a change which I can observe using my agile approach; accordingly, I can decide whether or not the result represents an improvement of the situation. Thus, I will look for the solution to the problem with myself, rather than with my colleague.
- Logic of perception: Under the systemic approach, the assumption is that there is no such thing as the “one single truth”, and accordingly, neither is there the one perfect solution. People have their very own reality construction based on their experience, personal values, status etc. Thus, finding a solution to a problem can happen by considering other perspectives. This automatically leads to a change in your own reality construction because it is augmented with additional perspectives. Therefore, a problem might eventually disappear completely or become smaller, or new solution approaches might be created.
- The solution-focused approach by Steve de Shazer pays virtually no attention to the problem itself: Instead of dealing with an extensive analysis of the problem, the solution-focused approach starts directly with the relevant situation in which the problem is solved. You start with the sentence 'Imagine you wake up and your problem is solved' and continue with ‘What would be different? Imagine the situation in which the problem is fully solved. What does it feel like? How do you first notice that the problem has been solved? What is still different?’ In addition, a look to the past may help to find indications of how a potential solution can look like: ‘In which situation did the problem have less significance? What was different then? What would have to be done to make this happen again?’
I personally have had some good experience especially with the third approach, the solution-focused approach. In a situation, for example, that was very complex and unclear to me, focusing on the solution helped a lot. When looking ahead into the solution room, I was supported by an esteemed colleague whom I met in my coaching training; she helped me in finding the right questions. Needless to say, I had already started based on the old patterns I was familiar with and had already spent lots of time analyzing the problem. However, I just couldn’t find any clarity. So I happened to find out that problems can be quite complex sometimes, but the solution doesn't have to be this way.
Addendum: The recent months I have been learning about the relations described above in recent months as part of my coaching training at the ISB. My motivation for this training course was to acquire tools to facilitate my work and to improve my approaches applied in problematic team situations. The example of the three complementary approaches to solutions through the systemic approach explained here is proof to me that I have been able to achieve this at least in part. Obviously, using this complementary tool, I also want to provide quicker and more constructive help to the teams I support.
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here