The Fifth Discipline

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NABIN SHRESTHA
Brand Strategist and Design www.water-comm.com

A director at MIT's Sloan School, Senge, proposes the "systems thinking'' method to help a corporation to become a "learning organization,'' one that integrates at all personnel levels indifferently related company functions (sales, product design, etc.) to "expand the ability to produce.'' He describes requisite disciplines, of which systems-thinking is the fifth.

The book cites one of the five Disciplines to create a Learning Organisation. These five disciplines: A shared Vision (1), Mental Models (2), Team Learning (3), Personal Mastery (4) and System Thinking (5).The fifth Discipline, System Thinking, is the one discipline that binds the other four and therefore the discipline where the focus of Change Management should be.

A SHARED VISION means all employees in a company share the same vision of where the organisation needs to go (instead of a vision-statement where management has written where the organisation should be going).

MENTAL MODELS describe the presumptions and generalisations people have which influence their actions. The first step in having people change their Mental Models is to have people reflect on their own behaviour and beliefs. 

PERSONAL MASTERY describes the strength of people to be proactive and to keep on learning to continuously achieve results which are important for them. 

TEAM LEARNING includes two aspects. Effective teamwork leads to results which individuals could not have achieved on their own and individuals within a team learn more and faster than they would have without the team. 

SYSTEM THINKING is used to analyse patterns in an organisation by looking at it from a holistic viewpoint rather than small unrelated manageable parts. 

One way in which systems thinking is executed is the way in which situations are explained by employees. Senge describes Three Levels of Explanation: a reactive explanation based on events, a responsive explanation based on behaviour, and a generative explanation based on structural level. Lifelong learning is important for an organisation because learning results in creating. The more people in an organisation learn, the more value they can create for the company. 

As a starting point for systems thinking, Senge describes nine system or behavior patterns which deserve the management’s attention:
1. There is always a delay between the execution of actions and the final (long-term) results.
2. A pattern of limited growth is the result of focusing on improving activities which focus on improving growth accelerating factors instead of reducing growth limiting factors.
3. Moving the problem instead of solving it. This is what happens when only symptoms of the problem are addressed and not the root cause. The problem can than re-occur, in the same form but also in another department.
4. Deteriorating Goals when situations get tough. Goals are set aside due to a crisis or because of any other reason. This is simply not acceptable. The vision and its goals give direction to the company, especially in these difficult times!
5. An escalation loop is a loop in which actors influence one another with a lose-lose situation as the outcome. An example is a price-war between supermarkets, where multiple competitors eventually fight one another on being the cheapest, and none end up with a profit in the end. According to Senge, one should only encourage a culture in which win-win situations are created.
6. Success to the successful is the archetype in which resources are allocated to the most successful activity which makes the unsuccessful ones even more unsuccessful because they receive fewer resources. This is not necessarily the best policy for the long term.
7. The politics to receive resources (for instance the budgeting game) is a situation where departments make up and alter numbers to receive more resources for their department instead of being able to see the scope of the entire organisation and act accordingly.
8. Solutions which do not solve, is a situation where short term positive results lead to long term losses. For instance, reducing preventative maintenance on machines in a factory.
9. Growth and underinvestment, is the trap where investing does not seem necessary because all is well at the moment. Not investing today, however, might lead to a lost opportunity for growth in the future because of a lack of skills or capacity.

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