Balancing loops are one type of Feedback loops. Feedback loops are basic building blocks of System Thinking. System thinking approach systems as a collection of parts that interact one with each other to reach a common goal. A feedback loop is a system structure that used to define interactions between the system’s elements in a loop between two or more elements. Feedback loops cause each item in the loop to influence the next one in the loop until the impact reach back the component that starts the loop. Those loops can run endlessly, causing different implications on the entire system. Feedback loops can be a valuable tool to understand the causes of reoccurring problems.
There are two types of feedback loops, balancing loops and reinforcing feedback loops. If the change started by one element in the loop influence other elements in the same direction, it’s a positive or reinforcing loop. If through the loop an influence will be in the opposite direction, it’s a negative or balancing loop, also called a goal-seeking loop.
An excellent example of a reinforcing loop is a system with two elements, employee performance and manager satisfaction from an employee. If there is a negative or positive flow from one of the element, it will be reinforced by the other element and a circle of positive or negative impact will start.
If we will take an employee satisfaction level and add hours of employee work as well as employee energy level, we will have a balancing loop with three elements. When an employee is more satisfied, he will work more hours. As he will work more ours is energy level will go down. When his energy level goes down, his satisfaction level will go down as well. This loop will keep a certain goal by adjusting positive and negative impacts to reach a goal.
Balancing loops are much more challenging to identify since there is usually a long gap of time between the initiation of the loop and the results. Balancing loops are even more tricky because the only way to fix their behavior is just by adjusting the goal they are trying to achieve. People regretfully are focused more on the loop instead of changing the goal. This wrong focus is one of the main problems for recurring issues in organizations.
Now it is your time to go and look for all the reinforcing loop in your organization, identify if they have a negative impact and change their goals to resolve recurring issues once and for all. It might sound simple, but it is not a simple task at all.