Delivery – it’s just about ‘getting it done’, isnt it?

No, I don’t think so. It can be so much more than that.

My approach is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. The way I work with it is to focus on what human beings actually do and I harness the potential of every person. The focus of this blog is delivery, or what those who know the viable system model call System 3.

Here is an extract from my booklet (this is a booklet that is given to attendees of my workshop, as part of the workshop kit):

‘This area of focus is about supporting the internal system to work effectively. We don’t just talk about resources and expected performance, though. We also aim to bring the humanity back into the work. One of the things we consider here is ensuring as many people as feasibly possible have been involved in decisions about how things will work and in setting goals, to prevent them feeling coerced. Remember that many people will also want their own professional values reflected in the work that they do. It is also important that once decisions have been made, you gain commitment to them.

Do not overload staff, though. They will never work at their best if they are in a state of frantic panic all day, every day. Aim for meaningful work for people. Make them feel good about themselves and make sure you consider their wellbeing. Trust your teams. Do not micro-manage. Remain hands off. Allow people to have their own peer to peer performance meetings. Let peers hold each other to account. Encourage them to share ideas to help the teams that are falling behind. Have a rolling host for the meetings, so no-one assumes ultimate power and/ or control. Give the teams the structure within which they can collaborate to enhance performance. Lead by example by demonstrating different behaviours and think about the language you use. Use language of encouragement that pushes people out of their comfort zone in a supportive way. Allow them to fail (within reason) and learn without embarrassment and punishment. Promote joint decision making throughout the system, so that effective prioritisation can occur. If you do have conflicts – and you are bound to have them – do not avoid them. Help people to use conflict creatively to listen to others’ points of view. Hold exploratory conversations, facilitate participation and listening.

Identify where there is confusion, conflict, disruption or chaos. These are not bad things but powerful indicators of places where you can intervene to make positive changes. They are opportunities. Do not complain about them, monopolise on them’.

The action cards

There are a number of action cards relating to this section. These are things we can do to enact this area of focus in reality. Here is an example of a few of them:

The skills required

My approach also outlines skills that are useful in enacting this section of my Systems Thinking Change Wheel. These are skills we could and should be advocating for and supporting in our organisations. Here is a taster of a few:

  • Coach
  • Supporter
  • Recruiter
  • Motivator
  • Prototyper
  • Trainer

Each section of my wheel goes through a similar format to the above. I outline important areas of focus and the questions we can ask ourselves about those areas. I go on, in the booklet, to talk about these key points, giving rationale for why they are important. My suggestions, which have been part of my copyrighted workshop kit for a number of years, have come from over 10 years of working with the viable system model in practice and the learning I have gained along the way. The key focus is on the development and support of each individual and harnessing their skills and talents to the full, encouraging them to work authentically and without fear.

The action cards tell us the things we can actually do, at each systemic level of our system (person, team, service, department, organisation, place) to enact the points mentioned.

Putting all six areas together gives a very powerful way of Creating the Conditions for Change in our working ecosystems. The focus is on what we can actually do to make a difference.

All materials are copyrighted and part of my consultancy and training kit. If you build on any of my ideas, please act with integrity and reference them appropriately.

Are you co-ordinating to bring about a paradigm shift?

My approach is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. The way I work with it is to focus on what human beings actually do and I aim to harness the potential of every person. The focus of this blog is co-ordination, or what those who know the viable system model call System 2.

Here is an extract from my booklet (this is a booklet that is given to attendees of my workshop, as part of the workshop kit)

‘Co-ordination is the vitally important, yet often-overlooked element of systems. It needs to be considered explicitly and not just expected to happen. I like to call it the ‘invisible glue’ – the things that hold everything together in a coherent way. This area of focus is about enabling feedback and information exchanges and effectively supporting interdependencies and interconnections. Ignore it at your peril! Get it right and it can significantly enhance your capacity and capability, often at very little or no cost. Do not under-estimate the value that getting this element right can bring.

One thing I have found to be extremely important in my work is something I have called ‘relationship-enablers’. These are the things you can put in place and/ or the mindset you can adopt that supports the dynamic connectedness in the system. The other extremely important thing here is what I call ‘interaction channels’ to enable collaboration. So, what are these things?

Relationship enablers are exactly how they sound. They are things that enable relationships. This can be as simple as a clause in a joint protocol that considers something from more than one point of view to something more elaborate, like a process for discussing and agreeing difficult decisions between a number of stakeholders. They are the things that give permission for the collaboration to occur. They can help to enable proactive dialogue, negotiation and agreements and enable relationships in the longer term.

Interaction channels might be mechanisms created to enable reflective conversations – do you ever have a joint meeting with another team/ department/ organisation specifically to reflect and learn from the work you do? Do you discuss problems and issues and seek to implement improvements together? Do you have a culture of positive challenge and learning? You can develop your internal structures so that people have enough freedom to enable collaborative working. Shadowing another team, for example, should not be seen as wasting time, but a valuable interaction channel and relationship enabler that can open up the support for ongoing collaboration and learning’.

The action cards

There are a number of action cards relating to this section. These are things we can do to enact this area of focus in reality. Here is an example of a few of them:

The skills required

My approach also outlines skills that are useful in enacting this section of my Systems Thinking Change Wheel. These are skills we could and should be advocating for and supporting in our organisations. Here is a taster of a few:

  • Storyteller
  • Information sharer
  • Facilitator
  • Relationship builder
  • Innovator
  • Networker
  • Enabler

Each section of my wheel goes through a similar format to the above. I outline important areas of focus and the questions we can ask ourselves about those areas. I go on, in the booklet, to talk about these key points, giving rationale for why they are important. My suggestions, which have been part of my copyrighted workshop kit for a number of years, have come from over 10 years of working with the viable system model in practice and the learning I have gained along the way. The key focus is on development and support of each individual and harnessing their skills and talents to the full, encouraging them to work authentically and without fear.

The action cards tell us the things we can actually do, at each systemic level of our system (person, team, service, department, organisation, place) to enact the points mentioned.

Putting all six areas together gives a very powerful way of Creating the Conditions for Change in our working ecosystems. The focus is on what we can actually do to make a difference.

All materials are copyrighted and part of my consultancy and training kit. If you build on any of my ideas, please act with integrity and reference them appropriately.

The systemic levels of my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ approach

As you will have gathered by now, the approach I use, which has been the staple of my systems thinking and my business for a number of years is ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’. It is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model, focussed on people and supporting the skills, talents and potential of every human being to flourish. The central strategy of my approach is learning and adaptability. Like the viable system model, I scale by repeating my approach at every systemic level (a person, a team, a service, an organisation, across organisations). I do not focus on ‘making a change’ but on creating a more supportive ecosystem from which change can emerge.

The 2 over overarching diagrams representing my approach are as follows:

Here are some more insights from my Creating the Conditions for Change action cards, which are heavily used in my workshops.

If you are interested in my materials, do contact me directly.

At the level of the individual

  • Informal reciprocation arrangements between individuals
  • Building personal relationships with those outside of your immediate area of work
  • Learning how to self-reference and supporting each other’s abilities to self-reference
  • Let others know how you like to work and how you might work best with others
  • Peer support each other and engage in reflective conversations and learning together, rather than competing with each other
  • Be the system health check monitor
  • Consider your identity – is it aligned with the purpose of your role and your organisation?
  • Consider how the insights you bring can enhance the working environment

At the level of the team/ service/ organisation

  • Purposefully creating reciprocation arrangements between teams
  • Purposefully building relationships with teams with whom you could work in a complimentary way
  • Supporting teams to self-reference or, where appropriate, self-organise
  • Have an appropriate balance of specialist and generalist roles that give flexibility so that the team or service can be adaptable to change
  • Purposefully build into your daily routines ways to engage in reflective conversations, positive challenge and learning
  • Ensure appraisals of staff praise for flexibility, sharing, helping others, forming relationships and reflective practices
  • Instigate monitoring practices that monitor for effective system characteristics
  • Develop rotas/ work plans etc that bring humanity back into working practices
  • Check your protocols do not disempower but support people if they want to empower themselves to take action
  • Devolve decision making to the appropriate people

At the multi-organisation level

  • Purposefully creating strategic reciprocation strategies across organisational boundaries
  • Purposefully building mutually beneficial relationships with other organisations
  • Developing structures that support departments, teams, cross organisational groups to self-reference and/ or self-organise
  • Support those who understand and implement systemic leadership practices
  • Monitor across organisational boundaries for system health
  • Bring a level of humanity back into expected performance levels
  • Ensure your policies do not hinder those who want to empower themselves to take action
  • Devolve decision making to the appropriate service/ department/ team

Skills for some of the above are that of coach, learner, supporter, activist, prototyper, contextualiser and  innovator.

The more we create the conditions for change at each systemic level, the more adaptability we might have when we do identify a change we want to make.

This is a small snapshot from only 10 of my 120 action cards that cover my approach. It took over 10 years of learning from using the viable system model in my work to convert elements of the model into ‘what people actually do when they enact this’. It is detailed, specific and my style is highly recognisable and appreciated by those with whom I use this approach.

I work both on site with groups to help them apply this approach to their own situation and I run workshops using a case study scenario to show how to apply the approach in detail.

This work is covered by UK copyright. Please act with integrity and do not copy my materials without permission

Creating the Conditions for Change – the action cards

There are around 120 actions that go with my Creating the Conditions for Change approach. A note to those in the world of complexity, these actions are not ‘things you should do that will definitely make your system work better’. They are areas for consideration that can help you create the conditions for change that may support you in taking your identified next steps effectively.

The action cards are part of a copyrighted kit that I have used both for consultancy and in my Creating the Conditions for Change workshops for a number of years now.  They cover all sections of my Systems Thinking Change Wheel

Here are some examples from the kit:

Co-creating, considering self-organising/ self-referencing teams, peer to peer accountability and investigating and implementing change within the span of your autonomy

  • Explore, experiment, fail and learn using small-scale prototyping to enable a learning process
  • Make sure people know how to innovate if they want to
  • Consider purposes and how the world can be different because of you and your role
  • Align personal purposes with purposes of the wider system (where appropriate)
  • Connect through vulnerability and bring the humanity back into the work
  • Actively engage in reflective conversations to learn
  • Purposefully create reciprocation strategies with others

Co-ordinating, collaborating and supporting. Building communities, networks and collaborative relationships. Create internal system coherence.

  • Have open access to information (where relevant) and make sure information is nurturing, not being used for power
  • Understand and actively work with feedback loops
  • Ensure structures enable the ability to work collaboratively
  • Build in mechanisms to enable reflective conversations, positive challenge and learning
  • Implement relationship enablers and interaction channels
  • Use stories as benchmarks about how your system is working

Deliver – bargaining for resources and managing performance. Bringing humanity and balance back into working relationships. Making joint decisions and goal setting around resources, performance and goals

  • Instigate different models of power and control so that operational staff feel empowered to act
  • Support others to enable themselves
  • Aim for meaningful work and wellbeing for all
  • Help people to push outside of their comfort zone
  • Allow autonomy, within relevant boundaries
  • Do not fight power imbalances. Turn them into something else
  • Change the nature of relationships
  • Purposefully build strategies of reciprocation
  • Form a culture of honesty and trust
  • Instigate positively orientated peer to peer performance management  and share ideas with anyone falling behind
  • Appraise for sharing, collaboration, supporting others and forming relationships

Monitoring – conducting system health check. Monitoring for signs of effective system characteristics. Monitoring for congruence between the systems and its vision.

  • If the system is suffering, look too see if it is lacking information about itself
  • Monitor the system’s ability to reciprocate. Build reciprocation strategies into protocols and strategies
  • Monitor the ability to flex, change, pivot and adapt over time
  • Monitor for congruence between the actual purposes of the system and its proposed vision

Adapt – trend spotting and fitting with a changing environment. Enabling pivoting. Building external relationships and gathering intelligence about the environment

  • Understand and purposefully use structural couplings
  • Scan the environment for new models of doing and bring the relevant elements back into your system
  • Make explicit external relationships and strategies of reciprocation

Shifting power, creating new structures and identifying identity. Identifying elements of joint vision, meaning, identity, purposes and goals. Devolving accountability and allowing autonomy. Seeking to ensure the old paradigm does not hinder the new

  • Ensure a sense of curiosity and innovation is fostered throughout the system
  • Check if the system is achieving intended purposes
  • Ensuring sharing of knowledge is inherent in the system
  • Critique system boundaries
  • Ensure a strong and appropriate identity
  • Actively critique your structure to make sure it is designed to create the conditions for change
  • Ensure there are policies to allow people to empower themselves, collaborate and build relationships and learn from each other
  • Instigate different power structures
  • Ensure no selfish goals predominate

These and many others are part of the Creating the Conditions for Change suite of materials and my own personal approach.

All materials are covered by UK copyright. They should not be replicated in commercial approaches. If you use them, please act with integrity and reference appropriately.

Creating the conditions for change – VSM system 1 or co-creating?

To support my Creating the Conditions for Change workshop, a small booklet is available for attendees giving further insights into the suggestions given in the approach. It covers every section of the Systems Thinking Change Wheel, a graphic designed to show the six areas of focus that are important for us to consider.

The Wheel does not tell you specifically ‘how to do’ but it prompts you to ask questions about certain things. This can help you consider what moves you might want to take next to ‘Create the Conditions for Change’ in your work ecosystem. The same areas of focus are applied at multiple systemic levels – individual, team, department, organisation, cross organisation etc. I take my inspiration from Stafford Beer’s viable system model and my Creating the Conditions for Change approach is my creative interpretation of the viable system model and what it has taught me whilst using it for over ten years. (I started using in back in 2007) To note here is that I do not use it like a model to copy to make things better, but a model that points out things that we can focus on that can help us to Create the Conditions for Change.

One thing I always found lacking with the VSM was the focus on human behaviour and what we actually do, and this has been the main focus in my approach for many years, as a result. I have blogged about my journey with the viable system model many times over the years and a book is in progress to bring it all together into one place, to show the journey in detail.

The first area of focus is where we consider the operational things that we do and how we work together with others, both as individuals and as team. It is focussed on how we co-create together, with learning and adaptability as central important factors in the approach. There is a focus on triple loop learning throughout.

It is here where the approach tells us to consider whether self-organising or self-referencing teams are relevant to us. There is a reason for considering this. The following extract from the booklet tells us,

‘In operational teams there is a fine balance between allowing autonomy and having control. This is one area that needs exploring and an appropriate balance found. Teams should be able to make decisions, within reason, to enable them to respond to the complexity they face, without having to constantly consult with higher management. Devolved decision making, autonomy, authority to act and accountability are key things to consider here.

Teams should be allowed to, and able to, investigate and implement appropriate changes, within the boundaries of their autonomy. They should be able to engage in small scale prototyping of potential changes and be encouraged to be innovative.

One downfall of teams is that they can end up in competition with each other, which sometimes does not help but hinders the performance of the whole. Collaboration should be understood as being more valuable than competition (where appropriate) and peer to peer collaboration, particularly across traditional boundaries, should be encouraged.’

A longer summary is given in the booklet with further insights and participants also use a set of around 120 action cards which give further depth of suggestions that they might want to consider to ‘Create the Conditions for Change’. Actions focus on how we can push outside of our emotional comfort zones and support others to do the same. How we might engage in reflective conversations and change the nature of the relationships we have. This is where I bring my insights in from my case studies and share how I and others have worked on these things in the past. Considering our purposes and especially creating and re-creating our identity in line with our own ethics and values links particularly to my use of the viable system model at an individual level, a process I started doing in 2011 as part of an Open University course and have been sharing with others lately. I have been refining it when focussing on my own personal development ever since and it is a key element of enacting the ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ approach. In the book I am writing I share how I did this bit by bit, year by year and the reasons why.

My suggestions do not just come from the case studies I have, although the thinking has often originated there. They also come from my own application of the viable system model and what that has taught me about making change. I have blogged about this area of focus many times. Most importantly, it has taught me about how human beings behave and what we might need to focus on to enable change, particularly in ourselves.

Please note that all materials on this website are copyrighted. Please act with integrity if you use anything and reference appropriately

Why I believe sub-system 3* monitoring, from the viable system model, should get more emphasis

System 3* monitoring

We tend to hear about system 3* as a monitoring system in viable systems. Done effectively by ad hoc audit and not part of the performance management process or communication. We rarely hear about its true power.

When developing my materials for my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ suite a number of years ago, system 3* was an essential element of the work. My booklet urges people to monitor for effective system characteristics and also for congruence between how the system is truly working and how it says it is working.

Creating the conditions for change – Monitoring

Making the system work in a more innovative way, means we have to monitor different things. We are likely never to get rid of performance management and reporting and might always have to submit things like KPIs but system 3* is different. I encourage people to enact it by looking at how healthy the system is, monitoring the internal context for the advocated system characteristics and for the presence of happy and fulfilled people.

My booklet encourages people to check if internal structures are supporting or hindering the work, rather than interfering with it. I also encourage people to check if information is being used as a power tool, rather than nourishment.  To look to see if reciprocation is happening and that co-creation is happening across traditional boundaries.

I monitor to see how flexible processes and people are, whether they can adapt, pivot and make change in appropriate timescales. I monitor for the ability to ‘deep dive’ quickly if required. My accompanying action cards give options for all levels of the system from the individual to the multi organisation/ systems change levels.

My booklet also outlines skills that are useful to have in this kind of function. In particular, being a system health check monitor. It was examination of what system 3* monitoring could look like, over the course of 10+ years of using the viable system model in my work that prompted me to develop it quite far in my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ suite of materials and in my own systems thinking approach.

Creating the Conditions for Change – action cards with actions for monitoring functions

I am now heavily using system 3* monitoring in a piece of evaluation work, which has been ongoing for the last year and looking promising.

If you are interested in my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ materials, consultancy and training, please contact pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Please note that this text is from my copyrighted consultancy suite of materials and must be referenced appropriately if replicated. Please act with integrity if using any of my work.

‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ for public services and beyond – working at multiple levels of the system

I have been blogging over the years about the gradual development of my Creating the Conditions for Change kit for those in public services and beyond. My suite of materials, both workshop materials and consultancy materials have seen many iterations and are based on my work since 2007 with the viable system model, other systems thinking approaches and some of it is from my days of transformation and improvement before then.

The kit is multi-faceted, consisting of my approach to systemic inquiry, using a blended systems thinking approach (below)

Systemic Inquiry Using a Blended Systems Thinking Approach

and my application of the viable system model and other systems thinking. It includes a suite of materials to support identification of patterns of system behaviour that may be harming your team/ service/ department/ organisation/ cross organisation working (viable system model system archetypes).

I have also turned my work with the viable system model into a human focussed suite of materials, based on Creating the Conditions for Change at each fractal level of the system and bringing humanity back into the work by focussing on what we, as human beings, need and want to feel nourished in our working ecosystem. This work stemmed from me revisiting my viable system model work and realising that whenever it worked well was when I used it to ‘create the conditions for change’ for a happy, nurturing and effective working ecosystem.

My workshop materials consist of the Systems Thinking Change Wheel

Systems Thinking Change Wheel (from Creating the Conditions for Change)

The wheel gives us the areas of focus for each fractal later in the system. Sitting under the wheel is a booklet summarising how and why we need to Create the Conditions for Change, relating to each area of the wheel.

Creating the Conditions for Change booklet

The real power lies in the action cards, which accompany the booklet. There are around 120 actions that help you to consider what to put in place, at each level of the system to create a healthier, more human centred, work ecosystem. Learning, adaptability, and how we make change are central. Bringing humanity back into the work is a key element and exists both as an area of focus in the wheel and in the actions throughout. There is also a big focus on creating relationship enablers and developing interaction channels, again stemming from my work with the viable system model.

Creating the Conditions for Change action cards

Starting with the individual – how we can use insights from the viable system model to look at ourselves and our own development. In any situation, we need to look at ourselves as much as anyone else. The Creating the Conditions for change kit can be used on ourselves, at a personal level, to create our own learning system and support our development. It considers how can we become more self-referencing, embrace our autonomy and peer support each other. The action cards include suggestions for this and many other things.

At a team level – we apply the same thinking at a team level. The focus here is not just on your own team but forging relationships across teams. Sharing resources, re-imagining roles, how we communicate and make decisions differently are a key area of focus in the actions at this level. They seek not only to make the team effective but to support the learning and development of the individual, in line with their own professional identity and purposes.

At a service level – again, it is the same thinking here but with slightly different actions. Collaborating, seeing wider than your own service, promoting joint decision making and reviewing your system for signs of system ‘sickness’ come into play here, as well as many other actions. Collaborations at a service level, set the ethos of collaboration at the team level below.

At an organisational level – here we start thinking about deliberate reciprocation strategies and acknowledgement of the benefits of cross organisational working. These reciprocations strategies enable collaborations at a service level below.

Multi-organisational level – we have many actions relating to the level of multiple organisations working together. Not least, undertaking system health checks to expose whether policies, procedures, funding etc are helping or hindering and whether power and information is nurturing the system or harming it. Co-creating together, enabled by deliberate reciprocation strategies is key and link to the enablement of such reciprocation strategies at an organisational level below.

Systems change – we then flow into the area of system change and this is where it gets really interesting.

Exploring and Enabling Systems Change

What I have found in my work on systems change is that nurturing people and bolstering their confidence is a critical factor, as is harnessing the collective power of those at every level of the system. Co-creating, using small scale prototyping is something I have brough in from my days back in improvement, pre systems thinking. Specifically, from my days in pharmaceutical specials manufacturing.

The power in all of this is that insights are shared at multiple levels of the system. When we take action at multiple levels, concurrently, powerful change can come from something seemingly very small.

This kit and my approach is developing all of the time.  A new iteration with even more insights is underway….who knows where it will go next……

Services

Services are available in using this kit to help you understand your system, consultancy services, workshops and training in the approach and in systems thinking in general. The kit has been used in multiple contexts, both public and private sector.

For further information for your organisation contact: pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Please note that all materials are copyrighted. If you build on them, please act with integrity and reference them appropriately.

A time for listening and sense-making

I have been contemplating for some time now – beyond my professional work, beyond the confines of the assignments I was involved in and into a place I couldn’t really articulate. I felt….different somehow…. but I wasn’t sure how. However, over the last couple of weeks I have interacted with groups and individuals in a way that has gifted me the reflection time and space to start and make sense of it. I knew it was there……I just couldn’t get it out.

What has been happening in our world for some time is real. It is scary and the most scary thing for me is that we are awake to it but have not yet worked out how to mobilise to prevent or change it. I am talking about the power, domination and control we see in our world. I have been considering whether it is actually possible to get past the billionaire giants? The tech giants? The egotistical manipulators? Can we get past the corrupt Governments and individuals? How do we harness our interconnections in a way that enables our creativity, our ethics, our values, our inner peace, and freedom to emerge? To allow our differences but connect our similarities.

Our minds are being poisoned by messages via our technologies and ‘fake news’ and it is driving horrible divisive behaviours. I heard Vandhana Shiva say, ‘the new colonisation is the poisoning of our minds’. It really struck a chord with me. Those consumed with power and control seem obsessed with manipulation of the masses and the breakdown of our own intelligent thinking. Are we going to allow it? Many aren’t, and I feel reassured by that but will the combining of huge egotistical powers continue to overwhelm us?

Maybe this time of coronavirus is a time when we can move away from the world we are currently stuck in? Structures and ways of being that were previously ‘invisible’ are now visible. Will our awareness of our interconnectedness prevail? Will we be able to harness our connections in a way that allows us to use them as a positive advantage for the greater good of humanity? These seem like big questions, but ones that our current situation is enabling us to contemplate. How do we anchor new patterns going through and coming out of this global crisis? Can we achieve system synthesis? Should we? Do we need to change our framing and narratives to allow us to discover new pathways to knowledge? Can we re-shape our structures? Our behaviours? How we think? Are we listening to the current situation and each other deeply enough to learn? And how are we making sense of it all? We are all creating but do we understand how we are doing that?

I feel like I need to be still. To listen and sense make. I have been going through it for about a year and right now it is at its strongest. I have gone through the moral outrage…….but where now? The inner place we come from will tell us and I hope the collective positive humanity driven minds prevail. Will we operate from a deeper place in future? Who knows? We are re-imagining – good luck to us all.

 

Making the invisible visible

Making the invisible visible

Today my head is bursting, but not with thoughts of disaster………with hope. Yes, the virus is bad. Yes, the hoarding is bad. The fighting in the supermarket aisles is bad. People dying is truly tragic. But something else is happening. Can you see it? Can you feel it?

I got one of those ‘I’m happy to help you if you are sick’ messages through my door last night. It brought a tear to my eye. I have lived in my flat for over 10 years and this was from a person who lives 10 doors away, who I have never heard of, I have never spoken to, never even passed in the street and smiled at. The realisation of the kindness that was so near and yet so far away was overpowering. This morning, I opened up my twitter messages to the kindest message from someone I have done work with. A message of compassion, caring and empathy – ‘are you ok?’

People know I am an enthusiastic systems thinker. What they don’t know is that right now, when the media is throwing stories of doom and gloom at us and our stable internal world seems to be crumbling, I see a rainbow. Individuals are acting, communities are self-organising, support groups are developing. This isn’t just a hard time that will return to ‘normal’ one day. This is also a fundamental social shift, making visible the way we can reorganise, reconfigure and build new capacities and capabilities. Some of the responses that are emerging now are heart-warming.

When I do my systems thinking work, I focus on creating the conditions for change. Well, some of those conditions are here, right now, today. People are innovating, doing things they never thought they could. They are creating channels of interaction, forming new relationships in different ways. They are considering each other’s feelings, building trust with those around them. They are adapting quickly and finding their own flexibilities. On social media, people are sharing their vulnerabilities, bringing out into the open that which is often kept quiet, hidden inside, eating us up.

How things are interconnected and interdependent is being made visible to the masses and people are reciprocating with their strategies for coping and doing things differently. Ethics and values are centre stage. There’s no hiding anymore.

People are experimenting, failing, learning…experimenting again and most of all, they aren’t giving up. ‘Busyness’ is slowing down, enabling us to re-connect with our humanity. We are out of our comfort zones and that isn’t all bad.

And here is a question – do we dare to build the reflective mechanisms to capture and use this in a positive way to help us move into a new way of being? Can different models of power and control, that enable us to feel empowered to act be created from our insights from this situation? Can we re-frame our thinking to harness our current strategies of reciprocity with one another and use them as a positive force as we move forward.

That which a systems thinker sees is now right before everyone’s eyes. The invisible is becoming visible. We have a choice – lose it or harness these new patterns and relationships and develop a new web on influence that enables a fairer society for all.

My plea to those who are building supporting networks, helping neighbours, working with communities and those who are acting to generally keep spirits high – capture your stories. Capture your current ‘ways of doing’. Capture how you have developed your new relationships, how you have re-framed the situation, how you have adapted and changed and, when we have come through the worst, use those stories to show how the invisible became visible as the conditions for change were created. Use them to create they which we may have previously aspired to but never thought we could actually achieve.

Stay safe everyone.

#SystemsThinkingChangeWheel #Creatingtheconditionsforchange

The viable system model, relationship enablers and creating the conditions for change

‘There are 2 groups of people – those who want to fight with each other about who is right academically and those who just want help to translate the academics into practical application. Until we can all learn to talk to one another in a helpful way then we are never going to move forward, even if we want to use the methods. If the academics come at us with their harsh academic arguments, we just can’t handle that because that’s not part of our world and if we can’t get across to them our challenges and how we need help, without being put off by their harsh arguments, then we are never going to be able to transform the good stuff into something useable.’

These were the words spoken to me back in 2015 by the Chief Executive of a Clinical Commissioning Group. A year later I left their organisation to set up my own venture and as you will see, I never forgot her wise words.

I have a lot of successes in my work. People are often impressed by the quality and insights I can give, and my ambition has always been focussed on helping others to experience the real power of systems thinking. To that end, I have spent the last couple of years going back over my work and really challenging myself about, ‘what I do when I do what I do’ – a phrase used in the Open University systems thinking courses that makes you seriously reflect not just on what you are doing, but how you are actually doing it. I wanted to take what I was learning and pass that on to others and I wanted to give them something outside of the academics and textbook models and methods to work with.

I have captured my learning in my Systems Thinking Change Wheel, and a set of 100 action cards that underpin each section of the wheel, to give people insights into creating the conditions to support change and as I have found, this is particularly useful for system change.

Those who know me know that I use something called the Viable System Model (VSM) a lot. I don’t use it in it’s first order hard systems thinking way, though. I use it in a more qualitative way, which for me makes it much more versatile. The trouble is, when people see anything about the VSM they quickly turn the other way due to its complex diagram and over burdening academic narrative. In addition, some VSM lovers shudder whenever anyone tries to make its insights accessible to the masses. So what I’ve done is not regurgitated the VSM, but taken my learning from using it and translated that into something useable for people who may never have come across it before, but still deserve to have the insights from using it made accessible to them.

One of the most powerful learnings I have taken from my work is that where some would say exchanges of information are critical, I have found relationship to be even more critical. Importantly I realised that throughout all of my work I was building in ‘relationship enablers’ at every point. In many cases, the information people needed, contrary to popular belief, was there. The issue was that there was no relationship in place that gave the incentive for the information to be understood, acted upon and the outcomes fed back into the system to enable change/ improvement. I have many years of examples of building in relationship enablers and linking this to my other work with the VSM and other systems thinking I have developed a set of actions that sit under the sections of the wheel to help people create the conditions for change. Many of my other insights are captured in the cards and I am now using these to run workshops to help those wanting to apply systems thinking to their complex situations and particularly to enable system change. It isn’t the sections of the wheel that are the powerful thing, it is the WAY you enact them (‘it aint what you do, it’s the way that you do it’). This is critical and my action cards and my workshops go through a process of helping people to see the difference between what they do now and doing something that might sound very similar but enacting it in a way that might give very different results.

Please note that the Systems Thinking Change Wheel and associated text does not fall under the creative commons licence for this website, but is separately protected by UK Copyright.

NB: workshops can be run for min 10 people, max 20-25. If you are interested, please get in touch.