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The wider system
 

Why is the wider system important?

All teams exist to serve some wider system outside itself. The team's success and even its long-term existence, depends on it meeting the needs of its "customers" and maintaining good relationships with its "suppliers". Both of these groups can be external or internal. The skills you need to work well inside your team are the same skills you need to work well with the wider system. Some simple tools can help too.

Understanding the wider system

o Make a map of the groups and key people you influence or who influence you

List the groups and key people on a chart. A diagram or picture often helps. Some of the people will be inside the organisation, some not. Give everyone a turn to think, you don't have to agree at this stage.

o Think about the nature of the relationship you have with them

Pick out say eight or ten of the groups or people so you don't get overwhelmed. Think of a phrase like "cooperative" or "distant" to describe the relationship now. Some people like to draw a "cartoon" to illustrate this. This is important work, but a light touch helps.

o Talk about how you feel about those relationships

You might have decided the relationship your management team had with the shop floor was "remote". Now you think how you feel about that. This helps create the energy for change. People might feel sad or frustrated, for example.

Setting priorities

o Choose which relationships you want to develop first

Look at the work you have done so far and think about the relationships that you would like to improve. Some people choose a relationship that is not working too well, where there is reasonable hope for improvement and where there are not too many knock on effects. You should not be too ambitious to start with.

Taking action

o Choose what to do from a range of possibilities.

Ask the other group or person what you could do differently which would make the relationship or work more productive.

Where problems arise, investigate them to learn how to prevent them in future. Avoid blaming.

Set up joint informal meetings to explore issues of mutual interest.

Encourage everyone to be clear and open with the other people about what they want and do not want from them and listen to their point of view.

You can set up an Inter-Group workshop. Two groups meet in separate rooms and list "How do we see ourselves? How do we see the other group?" and "How do we think they see us?" The groups share perceptions (listening!). They then form mixed groups to work on common issues. This is enjoyable and very effective.

Use survey feedback. An outsider or members of the two groups interview people to uncover the nature of the difficulties, examples of successful co‑operation and how to improve things to mutual benefit. People from both groups discuss the data and plan what to do.

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