System Archetypes - Explained

What are System Archetypes?

What are System Archetypes?

Systems archetypes are models of recurring organizational patterns.

Archetypes are used in observation, system analysis, and problem solving. They allow for observation of patterns of behavior within systems.

A manager might compare a problem in an organization to a recognized archetypes to identify the causes and develop solutions.

What are Feedback Circles in System Thinking?

“Feedback” in system dynamics is the result or reaction of any action taken.

There are 2 types of feedback:

• Balancing Feedback
• Reinforcing Feedback

What is a Causal Loop Diagram?

A systems archetype is demonstrated by a causal loop diagram that consists of elements of the system and shows how these elements are interconnected. The causal loop is useful to demonstrate dynamic interrelationships.

The variables in a system are represented as nodes in the loop. The edges of each node (known as links) that connect one node to the next.

Arrows between the nodes demonstrate the direction of effect that one node has on another.

The circle demonstrates causality through actions, delays, and feedback.

It provides a visual representation with which we can communicate the understanding of the relationship of the variables in a better way.

What is a Balancing Feedback Loop?

A balancing feedback loop seeks equilibrium, means that the variables in the loop will balance each other out.

There is a discrepancy in the system, an adjustment is made to address the discrepancy, there is an effect on the subject of the discrepancy, and the desired state (an equilibrium) is reached.

What is a Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

A Reinforcing loop, also known as an Amplifying Loop, is a loop that amplifies a system change. That is, one variable or node introduces a change into a system. The next node or variable reinforces (or compounds) the change in the same direction.

What are Delays?

A delay in a system the period of time between an action and the resultant reaction.

A delay is depicted as ( = ).

The major problem with delays ( = ) in a system is that it can cause us to miss or perceive a response to an action (feedback) incorrectly.

This may result in oscillation, instability or even a breakdown of the system.

The bullwhip effect in a supply chain is an example of a delay effect in a system.

Examples of Archetypes in an Organization

The following are 10 archetypes which can be observed in a typical organization.

What is the Balancing Process with Delay System Archetype?

The” Balancing Process with Delay" is a simple system loop with an action where the reaction is interrupted by delay.

As discussed, the delay can cause erroneous interpretation of the results/effect of the action.

The effect of delays can be minimized be extending the time of system observation or by accelerating reactions of the system to realized measures.

What is the Limits to Growth System Archetype?

The Limits to Growth Archetype represents the law of diminishing returns. Basically, if a process or system grows a fast or aggressive pace, there will be limiting conditions that counteract any action that is causing the growth. The result of this condition is to slow the growth.

As more actions are taken to accelerate growth (reinforcing actions), more conditions or the effect of a condition will be greater, thus slowing the growth further.

In some cases, the effect of a condition on a growth action can completely stop or reverse growth (collapse).

Generally, in a business system, the condition that slows growth is a resource constraint or a bottleneck.

Managers must take steps to approach growth aware that limited conditions may be present. Reducing the presence of those conditions is the first approach. If they cannot be reduced, then moderating growth to minimize the effect of the constraint is important.

What is the Shifting the Burden System Archetype?

The Shifting the Burden Archetype demonstrates the tendency to treat the symptom rather than the cause.

In other words, we recognize a problem in a system. We introduce a measure to address the effects of the problem that only temporarily addresses the issue. It does not change the structural issue that gives rise to the problem.

The effect of this archetype is to ultimately reduce or eliminate the ability to make the fundamental, long-term adjustments necessary to address the root-cause of the problem. That is, the temporary solutions cause a more comprehensive, fundamental solution less effective in addressing a problem.

This generally arises when members of a system identify a problem and state that a specific action fixed it without identifying what actually caused the problem. There is nothing to keep the problem from recurring at a future time. Also, the fix might exacerbate the underlying cause.

What is the Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor System Archetype?

The Shifting the Burden to the Intervenor Archetype arises when there is a level of dependency on the the inventor or a consultant when dealing with a system problem.

Because the individuals are brought in specifically to deal with the problem, there is the tendency to focus on or address the symptom rather than the underlying cause.

This can be effective in addressing the short-term problem but can lead to long-run problems.

Managers are advised to teach the skills necessary to address problems - rather than outsourcing problems. This allows the system to focus continuously on creating long-term solutions to problems or potential problems.

What are Eroding Goals as a System Archetype?

The Eroding Goals archetype demonstrates a scenario where a system begins to vary or deviate from defined goals.

Instances of poor performance are more easy to recall and have an effect on perceptions of effect. As such, people use these instances of poor performance/outcome to influence their actions.

When a company sees a deviation from stated goals, it takes new efforts to achieve the goal. The new goals tend to drift or deviate from the original goals. Often, this is characterized by lower-than-original standards.

To avoid this paradigm, managers can do more to continuously reinforce the company’s vision. They can continue to focus on the goals associated with the vision. Control systems that report progress toward goals is also effective.

What is the Escalation System Archetype?

Escalation demonstrates how the performance of one entity affects the other.

It arises when one organization mimics the activities of another organization without reason except to avoid missing out or falling behind.

This can be positive or negative. It is negative when it leads an organization down activity paths that detract from the mission or forgo better opportunities.

The way to avoid it, Managers must seek purpose or understanding in any actions taken. Further, cooperation or collaboration with a competitor may be an option (as long as it does not violate antitrust law).

What is the Successful to be Successful Archetype?

The Success to the Successful archetype demonstrates a scenario where two (often internal) entities or individuals compete for the allocation of resources. Each entity’s success depends upon resources. A successful entity receives additional resources, thus the other entity suffers.

This can result in unhealthy competition that ultimately hurts the organization.

Managers are encouraged to address this through the efficient allocation of resources. Avoid the tendency to reward success with additional resources at the cost of less-successful project. Create a goal and policy that includes a focus on the less-successful entity and its value or importance in the success of the overall organization.

What is the Tragedy of the Commons System Archetype?

The Tragedy of the Commons archetype represents the scenario where multiple individuals, entities, or teams use a finite set of resources in an unsystematic manner.

The result is often that individuals use the resources for their own needs, resulting in short term gains or success. In the long-run there is diminishing returns and an exhaustion of the resources.

Manager must address this by establishing a systematic approach to the allocation and distribution of resources. It is best to involve others in the rule making process to avoid a dictatorial perception. It also helps to educate others on the management and handling of the resources.

What is the Fixes that Fail System Archetype?

The Fixes that Fail archetype is a scenario where temporary fixes are used to solve a problem without getting at the underlying cause. These temporary fixes lead to long-term problems.

Fixes that fail archetype is similar to the shifting the burden archetype.  The difference is that the consequences of the short-term fixes themselves tend to lead to long-term problems that exacerbate the underlying cause.

As a manager, it's your duty to check the solution thoroughly and focus on the long-term aspects to deal with the problem properly.

What is the Growth and Underinvestment System Archetype?

The Growth and Underinvestment archetype connect investment with performance and growth. The archetype demonstrates that when performance standards are low, it can lead to lower investment in organization resources (particularly Human Resources). Lower performance means lower growth.

Performance standards may also be lowered to justify underinvestment. Lower performance standards generally leads to lower performance.

Managers must focus on growth potential and foster that growth by funding resources related to performance. Focus on long-term growth and make certain the performance standards are sufficient to accommodate this growth. If not, secure the investment in resources to accommodate the growth in demand.

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