Mapping out the solution
10th November 2020 | Claudia Filsinger
Here’s how to use “systemic intelligence” collaboratively.
Let’s face it! We all need as much as help as possible in the current business climate. Systemic Maps are coaching tools that sales leaders can use for faster problem-solving and more effective decision-making. In this article, we explore “mapping” as a tool, in the sense of a fast and powerful thinking process, visualized in holistic maps that you can use with no more technology than pen and paper or with familiar software tools such as PowerPoint.
The high-pressured, action-oriented sales environment usually leaves little time for sales professionals to step back and reflect on their work. Managing a multitude of customer and internal relationships, complex sales cycles, and chronic disruption means we need robust problem-solving skills.
Unfortunately, “mindtraps” have formed through human evolution. Once a matter of survival to manage fight-and-flight situations, in complex business contexts ignoring brain shortcuts and mindtraps such as our desire for simple stories, wanting to be right, agreeing to belong, having control, and being trapped by our ego can lead to ineffective decision-making and problem-solving. Examples are solving the wrong problem or jumping to solutions too quickly (Garvey Berger, 2019).
In this article you will be introduced to a simple, yet highly effective coaching tool that is applicable to a multitude of issues and contexts in your work with customers, and also within your organisation. Systemic maps provide the means to expose mindtraps, blind spots and hidden interpersonal dynamics in the context of a wider problem.
What are the benefits of using systemic mapping?
Traditional, cause-and-effect approaches are limited in solving complex business issues in uncertain environments. The importance of emotional intelligence in sales is increasingly being recognized, and many sales professionals use their intuition naturally as part of their work. Recent neuroscience research validates this and has shown that there is more to intelligence than the cognitive mind.
Systemic Maps are tools that offer sales professionals a structured approach to draw deeper on emotional and embodied intelligence such as gut feelings and general intuition. The “big data of the body” and so called “pre-verbal” knowledge are made accessible by visualizing inner pictures as simple Post-it Note maps, which make them tangible and thus shareable with others. This includes exploring potential mindtraps and thinking errors caused by unconscious biases.
The perspective we take to look at a problem influences what we see. A systemic view focuses on the whole, enabling us to answer the question “what is really going on here” in the wider context of a problem and the web of (frequently invisible) relationship dynamics. At the same time, individual elements in the problem context are explored deeper and gain a voice: what kind of team, organization, and customer relationship is this issue located in? What are the wider stakeholder dynamics, including the goals, values and motivations of individuals and the organization overall?
Systemic maps are easy to use and well-established in the community of international business consultants and coaches. They offer tremendous potential also as a self-coaching and co-creation tool for sales professionals, as they can deliver new information very fast.
“It really helps take you outside of your set viewpoint – almost literally. The result is a holistic grasp of complex interactions. And not just between human players; at one point I was surprised to find myself considering the world from the software’s point of view,” explains Paul Williams, Business Innovation Director with Oracle Corporation.
This holistic view also involves considering the impact of past events and previous relationships on loyalties, mutual trust and attitudes to risk. Professionals frequently talk about the “crystallizing effect” of the maps and how they show an unspoken truth. By giving attention to emotions, attitudes and relationship dynamics, and making them visible in the maps, more rational and sustainable decision-making and problem-solving is possible.
This holistic view also involves considering the impact of past events and previous relationships on loyalties, mutual trust and attitudes to risk. Professionals frequently talk about the “crystallizing effect” of the maps and how they show an unspoken truth. By giving attention to emotions, attitudes and relationship dynamics, and making them visible in the maps, more rational and sustainable decision-making and problem-solving is possible.Systemic maps are easy to use and well-established in the community of international business consultants and coaches. They offer tremendous potential also as a self-coaching and co-creation tool for sales professionals, as they can deliver new information very fast. This is achieved by mapping elements in relationship with each other based on two aspects: the distance or closeness between the elements, and the direction of the attention focus for each element – see Figure 1. For detailed guidance on mapping see sidebars “How to map”.
Applications in sales
Oracle’s Williams sums up the power of this approach. “With innovation, the more empathy you have with the customer’s world, the more accurately you can find the best intervention to make life better for them. I was intrigued by the systemic approach and the way it takes advantage of our natural human sense of physical space and orientation. I mean, even more so than the visual approaches I’m used to.”
The creative way of working with Post-it Notes counters screen fatigue, but equally online collaboration tools such as Mural, Powerpoint or online whiteboards can be used to document the maps and new insights gained.
Here are some examples when to use systemic maps in the sales cycle:
- Business development: Generating information for new pipeline.
- Proposals: Find differentiators you didn’t know you had and experience how your messages land.
- Qualification of leads: Create honesty by making uncomfortable truths visible, resulting in more-effective use of resources and more accurate forecasting.
- Stepping into the customer’s shoes: What is it like to be in relationship with you and your organization? What is blocking trust?
- Finding resources: Improve cross-functional collaboration.
- Closing the sale: Uncover what makes the decision-maker cross the line.
Applications in coaching
And here are some examples of how to use maps as a coaching tool.
- Self-coaching: In preparation or follow-up of meetings; prioritization – where is more listening and relationship-building required? Increasing accuracy of data within CRM systems.
- Coaching others: Many organisations expect line managers to coach their team members. Systemic maps give these conversations structure and focus.
- Teams: Co-creating maps is inclusive and draws on the systemic intelligence of the whole team. It doesn’t rely on experience built up in a lengthy sales career and makes visible the dynamics of a situation that is experienced by all.
- Sales leaders: Co-ordinating the team and managing performance (eg, considering all factors – including personal ones – that could influence the underperformance of a talented salesperson).
- Partner management: Reviewing your partner ecosystem.
- Customers: Understanding complex problems, showing the value of your solution (ROI and so on).
- Innovation: Systemic maps can complement other analytical and creative methods in use to deepen the awareness of hidden dynamics influencing the business problem and the consequences of doing nothing.
“I use Google Maps on a daily basis to help me with everyday navigation. Systemic maps are a great way for me to navigate while dealing with complex sales/business journeys,” says Rene Voogt, Manager Solutions Consulting at Pegasystems.
Systemic maps are fast and easy-to-use tools that consider the whole problem context, including invisible dynamics, systemic barriers, and thinking errors caused by unconscious biases. Relationships are represented spatially through closeness and distance of the elements influencing an issue. Further, the focus of attention of all people and factors involved is made visible.
Consequently, windows for action, previously overlooked resources and new resolutions emerge, which results in faster problem-solving, more effective decision-making and better use of resources.
John Whittington, Systemic Coaching and Constellations: The Principles, Practices and Application for Individuals, third edition, Kogan Page, 2020.
Claude Rosselet and Georg Senoner, Enacting Solutions, Ledizioni, 2013.
Jennifer Garvey Berger, Leadership Mindtraps – How to thrive in Complexity, Stanford University Press, 2019.
How to map
Benefit: making hidden dynamics in any problem context visible
Outcome: visualisation of the problem and solution, including new information drawn from systemic intelligence
Pen, A4 or flip chart paper and Post-its.
Alternatively, PowerPoint or collaboration software (see case studies below).
How to use: individually or collaboratively, in person or virtual.
What is the issue you want to resolve? What would be different if it was resolved? Write your answer down in one short sentence.
Step 2: Problem map
a) What elements are important to consider to show the current issue? Write the name of each of these elements on separate Post-it Notes (5-8 only). Examples of elements:
- Individuals (including yourself)
- Groups: teams, organisations, future customers or employees
- Concrete elements: products, services, market segments, regulations, targets
- Abstract elements: purpose, values, motivations, emotions (eg, anxiety, low confidence)
b) Order the element Post-its by importance for solving the problem in front of you.
c) Place the most important element Post-it on your A4 piece of paper. Then map the second-most-important element in a place that represents the relationship to the element that is already there, based on two spatial aspects:
- Distance between the elements: how close or far apart are they?
- Direction of focus: where is the attention of each element? On each other, on something else: eg, outside or on the edge of the problem context? Express this through adding one arrow on each Post-it Note to show the direction of focus.
- Repeat until all elements are mapped. If it is hard to decide in which direction to put the focus arrow, this gives valuable information on competing dynamics this person/element is caught in. Do the mapping slowly, so you can notice the change in dynamics caused through the addition of a new element.
d) Once all elements are mapped, make sense of the map by exploring your issue deeper:
- What useful data and insights are you getting from looking at the map?
- What emotions, loyalties and relationship dynamics can you now explore?
- Who or what have you overlooked that is an important element you should add?
- What takes courage and honesty to acknowledge here? What is being avoided?
e) For each element, summarise in a short sentence: what it is like for this element to be in its position, in relationship with the other elements? Document this.
f) When you have completed your analysis of the issue, take a photo for future reference or to share with others.
Step 3: Solution map
- What steps towards a resolution can you take? Explore by making moves to the elements, for example changing the distance between elements and their focus to try out options for resolution. Again, go slowly and notice the impact of each move on the other elements: is it better, worse or the same for them? Stop once you have found a new constellation of the map that is resolving the issue (or making steps towards it) and document any new insights with a sentence for each element on the existing post-its or write a new one if needed.
- Coach yourself: What actions could facilitate this resolution in reality? What resources do you need? (Resources can be not just people or material things, but also new behaviours, beliefs to leave behind, new skills, information flow).
- What is required of you to enable a resolution of the issue?
- Final Stage: Capture your key insights and take a photo of the solution map you can now work towards.
Mapping process adapted from Systemic Coaching & Constellations (2020) by John Whittington and Enacting Solutions (2013) by Claude Rosselet and Georg Senoner, and is further based on the author’s own systemic workshops and coaching practice.
- Use small objects on top of each Post-it to represent the elements in 3D. Use whatever you have at hand that that can express a direction: chess pieces; espresso cups (handle indicates the focus); marking stones or bottle tops with arrows; toys with a face.
- Use floor markers (see Figure 2) to build the map by cutting out little triangles to indicate the focus of attention. Standing on each element before you write down the sentences literally allows standing in this issue. This gives not just people, but also abstract elements a voice! What is it like to be your customer or a sales rep in your team? How central are the company values in this situation? What is the dynamic between underlying issues causing low performance of a talented salesperson?