Three short clips featuring systems thinker Russell Ackoff have been made available on YouTube, and embedded below. Ackoff speaks plainly about profound things, so listen closely, and don’t mistake his plain words for a lack of depth. I’m not an expert, just an interested student, but it seems to be that Ackoff’s great contribution is a clear and understandable explanation of how systems concepts can be applied in organizational thinking. Here are a few key points about the nature of systems, presented by Ackoff in these clips:
- Every system is defined by its function in the larger system which contains it
- An essential property of a system is that it cannot be divided into independent parts
- A system’s properties derive out of the interaction of its parts, and not the actions of its parts taken separately
As an example, here are a few quick thoughts on how our thinking about software development teams needs might change if we look at them through the systems thinker’s eyes.
- To understand why a given software development team performs the way it does, we need to examine the organization in which the team exists. We can’t find the answers by analyzing the team in isolation.
- The true team most likely differs from the team as defined on the org chart. The team on the org chart probably contains non-essential parts: that is, parts that cannot be said to be a part of the system, because they can be removed without impacting the output of the system. Also, the true team most likely contains people that are found in a totally different place in the formal organization.
- We can’t split an effective team in two halves and expect each part to have fifty percent of the efficiency of the whole team. A team’s effectiveness derive out the interaction of its members, not the actions of the team members taken separately.