How can systems thinking help us deal with our environment?


It’s really important for systems practitioners to take into consideration the context in which their system sits (the environment). It contains things that are not necessarily part of the system per se but have an influence on or are influenced by the system. There are a number of challenges that can be posed by the organisational environment:


The world is ever changing, no matter what field of work you are in. Those of us working in health and social care know this all too well. To deal with this we need to be more flexible, maybe have a flexible workforce and our organisational structure needs to support ongoing change. Modelling our organisation using a viable system model (VSM) can help us gain an understanding that enables us to build such flexibility into our organisational structure. 


Decentralising decision making can help us deal with the complexity from our environment. It gives us flexibility and autonomy to make change (within given parameters, of course). Again, the VSM can help us to consider how we might configure our organisation to deal with complexity from our environment. 


This can sometimes come from the threat of competition. Two options we have are to co-operate with others and develop a status quo or we can be more aggressive ourselves and gain a greater market share. Either way, we need to be flexible in our approach, which modelling using the VSM can help us with.

A great book on the use of viable systems modelling is, ‘The Fractal Organisation’ by Patrick Hoverstadt . A brilliantly written book which makes the VSM easy to understand. It is always my first point of reference when I need a little extra help. Available on Amazon:

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