Ps & Qs Education

Zooming out

On why big picture thinking is crucial to building a career.

The other day, I was part of a forum where some talented professionals had come together. The conversations were fantastic and some great suggestions and questions filled the room. However, slowly it became apparent that many of them were ‘working in silos’. They did not know there were similar trends and needs between them and they had mostly been pursuing independent tracks to solve common challenges.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon. ‘Silos’ have plagued organisations for a few decades now. The interesting thing is that unlike a few other management issues that have been solved over time, this one still remains alive.

Now you don’t need a management degree to realise that withholding information or restricting it to a select group is probably one of the most counter-productive things you can do. Unless knowledge is shared transparently, talent remains frozen and career growth paralysed.

So why do teams work in silos? Is it because they are unwilling to share and collaborate? Is it because they would rather stay within known circles of colleagues? Or is it because they are too caught up in their deliverables and projects, driving results, focusing on speed than collaboration?

The root cause need not be any of the above, though it may touch upon them. While the leaders of an organisation need to recognise and fix this, in my view, it is the individual’s own responsibility to seek information and influence others and collaborate passionately. Yes, they need to feel motivated and positive and perhaps there, the management could play a role.

Systems thinking

Quite often, professionals have key targets to chase but are not aware of the ‘Big Picture’. They start focusing on their own tasks rather than working steadily towards a unified vision. There are several sources of information within a company: the leadership team, the internal communication media, peer groups, etc. One cannot expect to be spoon-fed about the Big Picture anymore. All it requires is the drive and common sense to relate the various functions within the larger system and think where we’re headed. Principles can be drawn from ‘Systems Thinking’. Yes, it seems like jargon, but the basics are simple.

Systems thinking is about understanding a system by analysing the links between its various components. In management, it is a systems thinking view of the complete organisation in relation to its environment. Sometimes, a fish tank is used as a metaphor to describe the concept. In a fish tank, you have an ecosystem. There are different layers in a fish tank – formed by different kinds of fish, plants, some sand perhaps and also murky waters created by these different systems.

For the fish to survive, they need to understand how one relates to the other, how one kind of fish interacts with the other. How the plants are essential to the fish and vice-versa. Understanding this correlation between sub-units is key to understanding the entire organisation of the fish tank. The fish wouldn’t survive and the waters would become murky.

Any organisation or company is like this. And we need to apply systems thinking in many cases as it really can help unify vision and encourage collaboration. Once this is in place, silos can be broken easily.

Most companies have collaboration platforms that democratise employees and empower them to start interest groups of their own. Dialogues, posts, questions that challenge conventional wisdom can all be up here. Professionals with common skills, backgrounds can come together and share knowledge. So, there are no silos anymore. This is all virtual and there are no geographical barriers.

Knowledge is a weapon that gets sharper as it gets distributed and shared. Collaboration is the way to it. As they say, two minds are always better than one.

The author heads Corporate Communications at UST Global, a global technology company. She is also a writer. Twitter handle: @anupamaraju

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 3:15:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/zooming-out/article19523388.ece

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