Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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Mastering systems thinking in practice

3 Perspectives on ‘managing’

The focus in this section is on the diversity of activities that might constitute ‘managing’ – in particular working with others involved in a situation. More specifically, it is concerned with the type of managing a systems practitioner might undertake. In Week 2 you looked at some different meanings associated with the phrase ‘complexity’ but not directly on the matter of managing complexity.

Activity 1 Meanings of managing

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes for this activity.

Generate a list of all the verbs you associate with the word ‘managing’.

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Sort through them and develop some categories that help you to group and make sense of your list.

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Some of the verbs we (I did this with a colleague) thought of were


I identified three categories that helped me make sense of the list.

These were

  • a.getting by;
  • b.getting on top of; and
  • c.creating space for.

I make no claim that this list is definitive; my categories are ones that I found useful at the time. Undoubtedly your list and categories will be different.

The concern in this section is with managing in all its manifestations and how these are embodied in a particular manager. It is not concerned with just management within organisations, important though that can be. When I think of a manager, I think of anyone in any context who is engaged in taking purposeful action. That includes you and me. Winter (2002) asks the question ‘Why not think of “managing” in more generic terms?’ and illustrates this in the form of Figure 3a. Later he casts the act of managing in terms of a process of relationship maintaining (Figure 3b).

Described image
Figures 3 (a) and (b) Perspectives on managing (source: Winter, 2002, p. 67 and p. 83).

The point here is that if I, as a manager, am faced with a complex situation that I am trying to improve then I need to identify key relationships and who else I might need to involve to get a better understanding of that complex situation. But I also need to recognise that I have both a rational and emotional involvement in that complex situation as will all the others involved. This will be different if I have no or very weak prior relationships with those involved in the situation.

Described image
Figure 4 Perspectives on managing.
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