Reading for Leading #14: Using the systems thinking iceberg to troubleshoot problems

Using the systems thinking iceberg to troubleshoot problems

Reading for Leading is a weekly leadership tip shared every Monday morning as a pithy suggestion, question or reflection. You can find the whole series here.

At the recent Mindful Leadership Summit, Peter Senge, author of “The Fifth Discipline” led a session on systems thinking and systems leadership, including an exercise involving the iceberg model.

The iceberg model for guiding systemic thinking
Image credit:


The iceberg model allows us to explore a more complete picture of the different factors that may be at play in any given situation. Think of a problem that you’re currently facing. What you see at the top of the iceberg is the “event” where that problem manifests e.g. “Someone in my team has called in sick every week recently.”

But look below the event level to consider what might be contributing to causing the visible event. Firstly, what are the patterns/trends over time? e.g. “This increased absence rate started at the end of the summer.”

Next, identify what underlying structures may be influencing the trends e.g. “Over the summer senior management announced that funding for two major projects was up for review at the end of Q3.”

Finally, consider what mental models those involved may have about the situation e.g. “Team members think that funding is going to be cut for their projects and feel like they weren’t consulted and may be about to lose their jobs. As a result they have lost motivation.” and “Senior management doesn’t necessarily intend to cut funding but would like to shift to quarterly reviews of specific deliverables but don’t think it’s a priority to communicate this to staff.”

This analysis might suggest some actions to take to address the absence rate – maybe a consultation where staff can ask senior management questions and be reassured about the new process and where management can learn what information staff require to stay engaged.


Source of Inspiration: Talk by Peter Senge at the Mindful Leadership Summit 2017 and this post on the Northwest Earth Institute site.



One thought on “Reading for Leading #14: Using the systems thinking iceberg to troubleshoot problems

  1. Pingback: 2017 on Social in silico – Social in silico

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