#1 difference working at the University of Manitoba #books

I’ve worked at a number of different enterprises throughout my career. I’ve seen even more of them when I was a consultant. In one way or another I have seen all the following organizations in action:

  • Manitoba Hydro
  • Great West Life
  • Investors Group
  • Multiple departments in the Province of Manitoba
  • Assante Asset Management
  • Manitoba Blue Cross
  • Manitoba Public Insurance
  • I could go on…

What is the most interesting to me is how the University of Manitoba differs from all of these in one important way. I imagine that this observation can be applied to other educational institutions as well.

I see books everywhere.


What I’ve noticed is that almost everyone reads books specific to their career. Beyond that, there is a commitment to education. I guess this should not be surprising since this is a University, but the focus is profoundly different from anything I’ve seen in the private sector. Now before you jump to conclusions, I’m not saying the education budgets are larger. I don’t get that sense. But almost every project that delivers has a focus on education and training. There is just a profound focus that we need to educate people and train them and we should not expect people to just pick up new skills without training and effort.

Hand in hand with this focus on education and training comes an increased focus on innovation and improvement. Perhaps because our main clients are students who learn, we are eager to share information and learn ourselves. This gets magnified as Universities are very collaborative and we are eager to share information and innovations. This creates a larger eco-system of innovation with the goal to improve the educational system and our support of higher learning.

Since private companies are in competition, you rarely see professionals between companies sharing new methods and procedures that could help others in the industry. As a result, innovations have to be ‘discovered’ multiple times in private industries.

System Thinking

Which brings us back to System Thinking. I remember reading a book on System Thinking that proposed IT systems are designed within the larger enterprise context and can’t help but mimic the overall company culture and values. An open company’s IT systems will have less formal procedures that a company that is very hierarchical. The IT systems reflect the company.

So I guess it should not be surprising that our systems and our IT organization and culture have been modeled after the University as a whole.




Basketball Systems Thinking #Agile #systemsthinking

So my kids are playing Basketball in addition to playing Hockey this year. My son is 10 and my daughter is nine. They are quite similar players in both sports. My son could take it or leave it, while my daughter is a spark plug and high energy in both sports.

The interesting thing is they do not keep score in Basketball for both of their age groups. Even more interesting, this has had very little impact on my daughter, she is still the high energy spark-plug she has always been. My son, on the other hand has been de-motivated. He certainly is less motivated to give his best without the possibility of ‘winning’ the game. His behavior is not greatly different, but I certainly noticed it enough to have a conversation with him.

I thought it was quite interesting to note how a system change affected my son more as he was extrinsically motivated while my daughter was affected less since she was intrinsically motivated. She just loves the game and competing, no matter if someone wins or not.


The big change though was how the behavior of parents changed. Totally gone was the aggressive behavior of yelling at their children and the referees. I even caught myself almost challenging a call and then not following through at it would not affect the outcome. Without keeping score, the outcome is totally about being kids enjoyment and helping the kids to get better.

I’m not sure if the model would ever translate to Hockey as goal scoring is much less frequent in Hockey. Because you score 6 times in an average Hockey game versus 90 times in a typical Basketball game, the focus on scoring becomes much more intense.

It is interesting to see how a small change in a system affected the parents behavior so radically.

Something to keep in mind as we set up systems at work.

#Winnipeg Jets, #SystemsThinking, and why a new coach was needed

Today the Winnipeg Jets relieved Claude Noel of his coaching duties. Claude Noel was always professional and I wish him well in his future.

While I read some of the comments and responses I was reminded again about Systems Thinking and how we are too quick to blame people for being lazy. The majority of people today seem united in the opinion that the players let the entire coaching staff down. The players were depicted as overpaid millionaires that had lost the passion for the game and were lazy. Now I don’t have any inside knowledge of the team, but this comment reminded me of the type of comments we get on projects when teammates do not meet the objectives others have set for them. The teammates are painted as being lazy, without passion and drive, and in some instances it is said they lack talent and skill.

Sound familiar?

Many types of Systems

Now the system I am talking about isn’t the hockey system the team is using for offense or defense. (although I imagine those are equally important systems) I’m not referring to the “lack of a hockey system” that several Pittsburgh Penguins players were quoted as saying the Jets lacked. I’m talking about a system that is a bit more foundational than that. (Although those systems may need improvement as well)


Many people refer to the type of system I’m referring to as the Culture of the organization. I like to think of culture just being the set of behaviours that the organization has valued by the people and processes in that organization. If an organization has a culture of skipped meetings, it is because the people and processes there tolerate that behaviour. If an organization has a culture of gossiping and rumour-spreading, it is because the people and processes in the organization at least tolerate it.

The Winnipeg Jets currently have a culture or set of systems/practices that allow for inconsistent play and the appearance of a lack of passion.

Is that the player’s fault? Nope. They are just operating in the system they are in.

I often hear that the players are paid professional and should not need to be motivated. They should be able to motivate themselves. Well I would counter that by asking people to remember a job where passionate professionals were not rewarded. I think we will all remember we slowly adapted to that system.

Well you ask, isn’t the coach also just a member of that system and not to blame?

I’d agree partially. It is my personal opinion that people higher up in the organization should take more accountability when the system doesn’t work.

It didn’t appear that the system or the culture changed over the past two and a half years. That is why a move was made.

We will see how successful Paul Maurice is in changing the system. I hope he has read books on System Thinking.

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.