A Systems Thinking concern

I have been recently doing more reading into Systems Thinking due to the fact that several great articles have been written recently that I have had the good fortune to discover.


“Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements. Systems thinking can be used in any area of research and has been applied to the study of medical, environmental, political, economic, human resources, and educational systems, among many others.”

Performance Feedback

Recently there has been a lot of discussion related to Performance Feedback and Systems Thinking. Much of this has revolved around how it is very difficult to separate one’s performance from the system this person finds himself in. I can personally attest to this. In a previous job, my behaviour adapted to the environment I found myself in. Even more interesting, the company underwent a merger with a sister company a few years before and I could see how my behaviour changed along with the culture of the company. Although I really had no idea that I was changing at the time.

So if have experienced the systems impact on behaviour and performance, what could possibly be my concern?

My Concern

My concern about Systems Thinking related to Performance Feedback is not that the system does not materially impact the behaviour and performance of the individual. It does. But it is a complex relationship.

My concern is that a misapplied system thinking approach might lead to someone thinking that they are 100% at mercy of the system. One can see by the definition above, that this is not Systems thinking. All Systems thinking says is that you need to consider the entire system.

In some discussions, there seems to be a distinction between the individual and the system. The system is really just the amalgamation of all the individuals. There is no us (individuals) and them (system) – we are all the system.


I’m a big proponent of Systems Thinking, but we need to ensure people use the term and concepts correctly. People will be impacted by their environment, but to different degrees based upon their roles and personality.

Most importantly, we should not hold the system solely responsible for anything. After all, we are the system. If the system is not optimal, our primary responsibility is to help improve it.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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