The System Within




Nonprofit organizations are like Rubix cubes. Complex, interconnected system of people and activities. A change on one side effects all parts. You expand your service area, a great win for your mission, and this leads to resource constraints for delivering your services. You are awarded a grant that allows you to increase your services, and it leads to more complicated needs in measuring success and tracking data.

While one side may look perfect, the other sides show a different story.

We know that community change happens at a systems level—with numerous organizations working in collaboration to solve systemic problems in our society. Organizational change happens at a systems level as well. Accordingly, we take a different approach when embarking on organizational change that involves solving problems systemically rather than taking a piecemeal approach.

Teams within organizations do not function in a vacuum. They function within the context of the larger organization, and there are many intricate connections between teams in an organization. Work, ideas, relationships—all cross team lines. As an organizational leader, fully harnessing the interconnections amongst teams leads to broader and deeper adoption of change in the short term, and a healthier organization in the long term.

Whether it’s creating a new strategic plan, implementing a new technology or process, or launching a new service or program, here are a few ideas to help you take a systems approach to change in your organization.

Make Shared Connections Abundantly Clear

A key piece of a systems’ approach is that employees understand the role they have in making change within their environment. The more people understand how they can be part of the change, the more empowered they are to be a positive force within it. Bringing teams together to discuss the work they do and creating space for teams to collaborate can make the system more apparent to everyone involved. When people know each other and understand the work that others do, they are more likely to identify their shared connections and naturally work in concert rather than in siloes. Providing more opportunities to collaborate in the day-to-day can prepare your organization for collaboration when you undergo large-scale change.

Educate and Prepare for Change

Consider the full system within planning for organizational change. Expand your knowledge of a system’s approach by educating yourself on the topic. Here are several good places to start:

Change is unpredictable, so you will not be able to fully control any change initiative. However, taking the time to think through the impact change will have across the entire organizational system can help avoid pitfalls.

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