When I incorporated a ‘system health check’ element into my Creating the Conditions for Change© consultancy approach, using insights from the Viable System Model, it opened up people’s perspectives to things that were vitally important to their team/ service/ organisation wellbeing and yet were going unnoticed.
The action cards in my consultancy approach (which are questions and prompts about important things to consider) are related to things such as the collaborative and adaptive capabilities of the team/ service/ organisation in focus. Some of the seemingly invisible elements that can bring things together and encourage effectiveness if working well.
Drawing on my blog from 2021, based on work from several years prior, I will remind you of some of the things I monitor for when looking for system health. These are elements that I devised based on my work with Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model, which has been a stable in my practice for many years now.
Carrying out the health checks means looking at (amongst many other things):
- If internal structures are hindering rather than supporting the work
- If information is being used as a means to gain power in a situation or is it being used to nourish a situation
- If reciprocation is happening across boundaries
- If co-creation is happening across boundaries
- How flexible processes and people are. Can they adapt, pivot and make change in appropriate timescales
- Can a deep dive be carried out quickly enough when required
My action cards that support my consultancy approach give options for all scales in the system, from individual to organisation and beyond. My workshops also give a sense of the skills required to be a system health check monitor.
It was examination of what the viable system model system 3* could look like, over the course of what is now over 13 years in my work, that encouraged me to make it one of the priorities in my Creating the Conditions for Change consultancy approach.
I have done significant work with it in the NHS in the past, in my roles as Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Commissioning and Transformation Manager and Assistant Quality Assurance Manager and in my private sector roles as Senior Operations Manager and Production Manager in GMP environments, which focussed on quality and improvement.
My work nowadays is also in place-based systems change, which also benefits from the same approach. The versatility of my approach is far beyond what I ever expected when I developed it. It is an approach that is now being widely experimented with by others and my website archive of my past reflections has been viewed heavily by visitors from all over the world. It took many years of deep exploration to get the approach to where it is now and I am currently working on developing it even further. It is essentially a way of using the Viable System Model as a learning system.
Authentic approaches can take time to mature, especially if truly based on insights and learning from your own genuine work.