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.

Through the lens of systems thinking

The clients and their situation

It is 6 months since I was introduced to my clients. They are a mixed group from various public services who work in the same city together. To my delight, people with lived experience are included in the group working to enable systems change. They have been through an interactive programme together, introducing them to systems change and giving them the space and time to build some community together. They have some knowledge of systems thinking and I think they are ready for the next steps.

Their situation is one that many in public services are up against every day – multiple organisations trying to work together but working to different, and often conflicting, targets. Silos abound. Everyone seems to know each another but there is an elephant in the room. They always exist, right? They just aren’t talked about. Every group has their elephant, sitting silently in the corner.

Multiple and conflicting perspectives fly around like a hundred fluttering butterflies bouncing around in the wind, only these butterflies have teeth and take a bite at each other every now and then. Everything is interconnected and interdependent in some way, and power struggles are extremely evident. Those with lived experience are vocal about how services don’t always work for them. They are the recipients of the outcomes of overburdening bureaucracy and it hurts. It is destructive and breaks trust between the organisations and people in the community. My impression is that the focus is on the transactional, although there are pockets of innovation and everyone is dedicated. They are just constrained by the erratic complex, uncertain and ambiguous situation of which they are a part.

I see opposites – working together but power drives them apart, pulling in the same direction but bureaucracy throwing obstacles in their way like giant felled trees blocking a road. Sharing but lacking social learning. Can this complex situation challenge itself enough to enable people with lived experience to be seen differently, supported differently in the community and included in decision making in different and better ways? They are on their way, of that I am sure and over the six months I have known them I have seen admirable efforts to overcome long standing obstacles and challenges.

Let us begin…

They are ready now, I believe. We gather in a small room, conduct our ‘check in’ and I start the day with an interactive exercise based on viable systems. It is calming and aimed at easing people into the day in a relaxed way.

     

 

 

It is then followed by an exercise to start and lift the energy – an experience of complexity and what things might be ‘invisible’ to us yet undeniably there when we are together in a complex situation.

 

Our focus is now on the complexities of the situation and the complications that people themselves bring. Each one of us has our own epistemology, mental models, frames of reference and tendencies towards reaction rather than reflection. Are we adaptive to situations? Do we co-operate and reciprocate? Do we really see multiple perspectives, understanding that each of us will interpret the situation differently? We like to think that we do but in reality, we often do not.

Contextual awareness

Using their current situation as our context, together we start our journey of exploration. I introduce the Systems Thinking Change Wheel and share six categories that we can focus on that can, in different and complimentary ways, help us to create the conditions for change. The categories are based on work I have done over the last 10+ years using cybernetics and systems thinking to work with and in complex situations. We look at:

  • How self-organising or self-referencing teams might operate, including a focus on peer to peer collaboration and how groups might instigate and implement change within the boundaries of their autonomy
  • How the group can co-ordinate, collaborate and support across individual, team and organisational boundaries. We discuss internal system coherence within organisations and across organisational boundaries. Importantly, we include building community and networks and how co-production might be more effective
  • We move on to considering what resources are available, including the collective resources of their own experiences, skills and talents. How might some joint decisions be made when goals and expected levels of performance might be different for each organisation? Importantly, we discuss how this might be achieved at the same time as bringing the humanity back into everyone’s work and having some balance to avoid burnout
  • Of course, every ‘system’ needs some kind of monitoring, but we don’t talk KPIs and targets. We talk about conducting health checks on the system instead – is there congruence between the behaviour of the system and its vision? Is there a joint vision? Should there be? Or should there just be some element of similarity joining everyone together?
  • We then explore adaptability and how the group might change quickly enough to match changes and differing needs in the environment. We consider whether they could adapt to a sudden and unexpected change in circumstances and as I write this, I expect the group will have found their answer to this during the pandemic
  • We know there will never be a fully joint vision of the future, but the group do know that they have an element of shared purpose. The trick is in identifying that and using it to their advantage. They aim for some element of shared learning and shared meaning making. Alongside this, we consider how devolved accountability might work and highlight where there are commonalities in their identity and whether they want to create a shared identity as a group

 

Learning, change and adaptability are key throughout and using the above we move on to exploring actions within each section that can be undertaken to identify where the group are currently strong and where they need to focus more efforts, how they might synthesise their insights and move forward to co-create their future together.

Making the invisible visible

Every day people swim around in a sea of complexity that is evident, yet partially invisible to them. Events are easily seen, but the system structures, behaviours and individual differences driving the events are less obvious. Their impacts are felt but somewhere beneath the surface there is a fuzziness. They feel the waves, and often the tsunami, and yet it can still come as a surprise.

In this session we made the invisible, visible. We exposed that which we take for granted. We exposed it in understandable ways. The water in which people were swimming around in suddenly had some colour. They could see it, which meant that they now have more chance of working successfully with it and to change it, where necessary.

They were surprised by how much the session showed them. My response to that – it was already there. They already knew it. I just helped them to see it and work with it in a constructive way that they could understand. And now? Well now it is their turn to help others see the water they are swimming around in and work with it to start co-creating a different future.

The Systems Thinking Change Wheel and Creating the Conditions for Change – available as on site support or workshops (social distancing guidance permitting)

This narrative us intentionally anonymised to maintain client confidentiality

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.

Training Courses Available

The following one-day training courses are now available

Both of these training courses require a minimum of 10 people, maximum 20. They are intended for groups of people who work together across a geographical place, and especially for those in public services.

Costs vary, depending upon number of delegates, location and provision of rooms and refreshments. Please get in touch if you are interested in running a session for your organisation/ group of colleagues.

Creating the conditions for change with systems and complexity thinking

Who is this training for?

This training if for anyone who is interested in creating the conditions for change using insights from systems and complexity thinking. It is particularly useful for front line teams and managers involved in system change.

What will I learn?

You will learn about the conditions that are required to make effective change in any situation. You will learn how to look at things from different perspectives, how viable systems work and what features are required in a system to enable system change.

Do I need prior knowledge of systems thinking?

No prior knowledge of systems thinking is required for this course. All concepts will be fully explained.

What will the format of the training be?

This is a highly interactive session using my Systems Thinking Change Wheel and action cards to understand system change. A case study will be used to apply the thinking to, and by prior arrangement, this can be a case study of the ‘place’ in which you work.

There will be some presentation whilst explaining concepts. However, the majority of the day will be group exercises and application of the thinking to the case study. You will identify where conditions might hinder system change and where effort can be injected to help create the conditions to enable system change.

Applying the viable system model

Who is this training for?

This training is for anyone who has an interest in applying the viable system model to a situation. You can be from any kind of work background, as long as you have an interest in the subject matter.

What will I learn?

You will learn the basics of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. You will learn about the five sub-systems of the model and what their functions are. You will also learn how to apply the model to a real-world situation, learning what to look for and how to spot areas for potential improvement in a situation, based on a diagnosis using the model

Do I need prior knowledge of systems thinking or the viable system model?

It does help if you have some knowledge of systems thinking but don’t worry if you don’t. Systems thinking is such a wide field that any key concepts etc will be explained throughout the session. It is important to do this because of the wide range of interpretations that exist.

What will the format of the training be?

There will be some element of presentation when explaining the model. The majority of the day, however, will be your practical application of the model to a given case study. You will undertake a diagnosis of a messy situation, using a number of ‘guides’ that you will be provided with to help you along. It will be a mixture of thinking about certain elements alone and in groups and you will be guided by the trainer throughout.

The case study will be a case study that the trainer has worked on. That way, she can share real insights as to how the model can be applied and what you can look for when trying to identify areas for improvement. It is a case study is from public services. This area has been chosen for its ‘messiness’ which gives opportunities to demonstrate areas for improvement in many places. You do not have to have experience of or a background in public services to understand the case study or undertake the diagnosis. In fact, it can sometimes help if you don’t know much about the situation in the case study.

Other bespoke systems thinking courses are available, which can be designed to meet your needs. Please get in contact to discuss your requirements.

pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Feedback from a previous course:

Viable system model training

Viable System Model Training – Leeds

Out of all the approaches I use, I get asked most often about the viable system model. How do you use it? What does it look like in the real world? How do I apply it to my organisation? How do I apply it to my service? What do I look for when I am diagnosing my situation to see what might be going wrong? I can’t really get to grips with all of the text books, do you have any examples?

There has been a sudden upsurge in interest in the viable system model. Some people are realising that they need to add ‘something else’ to their current approaches to help deal with the complexity of today. In the world of consultancy, it is becoming recognised. In the world of public services, it is used more and more.

It is for these reasons that I have decided to run a 1 x day training course on the viable system model. The session will give an overview of the model and how it works and what to look for in your situation when you are using it. You will be given a real case study to apply the viable system model to. It is a case I have worked on in public services and I’ve done it this way so that I can share the real issues and barriers you might face when using the viable system model. I can also share the insights and what it meant in this particular case.

When is the training and where?

The training is being held in Leeds City Centre, on Friday 22nd March. Details and booking can be found on the Eventbrite site here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/applying-the-viable-system-model-training-tickets-55827383206

I would advise booking sooner, rather than later because there are limited places and booking will close 10 days before the day

 

Who is this training for?

This training is for anyone who has an interest in applying the viable system model to a situation. You can be from any kind of background, as long as you have an interest in the subject matter.

What will I learn?

You will learn the basics of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. You will learn about the five sub-systems of the model and what their functions are. You will also learn how to apply the model to a real-world situation, learning what to look for and how to spot areas for potential improvement in a situation, based on a diagnosis using the model

Do I need prior knowledge of systems thinking or the viable system model?

You do not need any prior knowledge of the viable system model to attend this course. It does help if you have some knowledge of systems thinking but don’t worry if you don’t. Systems thinking is such a wide field that any key concepts etc will be explained throughout the session. It is important to do this because of the wide range of interpretations that exist.

What will the format of the training be?

There will be some element of presentation when explaining the model. The majority of the day, however, will be your practical application of the model to a given case study. You will undertake a diagnosis of a messy situation, using a number of ‘guides’ that you will be provided with to help you along. It will be a mixture of thinking about certain elements alone and in groups and you will be guided by the trainer throughout.

The case study will be a situation that the trainer has actually worked on. That way, she can share real insights as to how the model can be applied and what you can look for when trying to identify areas for improvement. The case study is from public services. This area has been chosen for its ‘messiness’ which gives opportunities to demonstrate areas for improvement in many places. You do not have to have experience of or a background in public services to understand the case study or undertake the diagnosis. In fact, it can sometimes help if you don’t know much about the situation in the case study.

Do I need to do any prior reading for the training?

No, prior reading is not required.

Do I need to bring anything with me on the day?

Just the usual pen and notebook, if you want to make notes and, of course, the willingness and enthusiasm to learn in a friendly and sharing environment.

 

Thinking of hiring a systems thinker but wondering what they actually do?

I am often asked what a systems thinker is and what they do in their work. Of course, there are many academic responses to this and systems practitioners (and others) can spend an inordinate amount of time debating the answer. Whilst this might be helpful to the academic advancement of systems thinking, it doesn’t really help people in organisations who just want to know, ‘If you come and work with me, what will you do and how will it help me?’

There is a huge breadth of differences in how systems practitioners work and the approaches they use. So much so, it is impossible to answer on behalf of everyone. However, I can tell you some of what I do in my work and what I might focus on (which will invariably change depending upon the context of the situation). No references to academics or academic text, just ‘plain speak’:

I look at the bigger picture

I don’t just look at one tiny area. I zoom out and look at your problematic situation and the context in which it sits and how they impact one another now and/or how they might impact one another in the future.

I ‘see systems’

I look at things as systems. This means that I do not jump to blaming staff for the problematic situation. Nor do I jump straight to reorganising, restructuring, outsourcing etc. Issues in problematic situations are usually systemic and I seek to understand why they are really happening before making any kind of recommendations or changes. This doesn’t mean taking a long time either. My approaches can help me make recommendations or changes very quickly sometimes.

I don’t look at problem/ solution per se

In complex situations there is no problem/ solution per se. There is only and improvement from where you are now. Yes, in improving the situation you may solve some kind of problem along the way, but I look at how I can help you to be adaptable so that you can deal with your own issues on an ongoing basis

I respect different views and perspectives

I use a number of techniques (like diagramming) to work with different perspectives in a non-threatening way. The diagrams might include visual metaphors that allow feelings to be displayed without entering into a “he said, she said” scenario. They are extremely powerful and can often reveal things that, until the point of drawing the diagram, have remained hidden.

I allow time to accommodate conflicting interests and help people work through their own understanding of the situation and that of others

This is a very under-rated exercise. It is extremely valuable. In my experience, people hate feeling that their interest in a situation is not as valuable as someone else’s interest. Just knowing that the person working with you and the other parties understand your point of view helps to dissolve barriers.

I explore organisational arrangements and governance and diagnose what is preventing the system from operating to its maximum effect

This is done via systems modelling. I use a very powerful diagnostic approach to explore your situation and work out why things aren’t working quite as you want them to be.

I examine the thinking behind some of the faulty decision making in the system

It’s easy to have faulty decision making without even realising it. All of us are guilty of it at some time or another. It might be that there hasn’t been enough information when making the decision or someone might have been given poor advice. If a decision hasn’t given the outcome that you wanted it to, I can often pick up in my diagnosis why this might have been the case.

I use methods, concepts, tools and techniques to examine and deal with complex, dynamic and diverse problematic situations

I don’t just ‘wing-it’ or do what someone else has told me to do. I have applied systems and complexity thinking to my work for over 10 years. I use a variety of approaches that have sound theory behind them and I have, at some time, ‘tested them out’. I do try new things also, to ensure that my approaches keep developing and my thinking is ‘fresh’.

I support you to manage the complexity and manage in the complexity and encourage adaptability as key to your system surviving

I look to see what makes your system breathe, what makes its heart beat, what conditions have to exist to enable it to live, what makes it die. I look at how your system interacts with the environment around it. I look at what interdependencies exist, or don’t exist but should or could. I look for the drivers of your complexity and I look for the energy levels in your system – are people and processes energised, frantic? Are they stressed, fearful or in despair? Or are they asleep, calm, laid back with not a care in the world? I don’t just consider, ‘What is this thing?’ I consider, ‘What does it do?’

I examine the potential consequences of different configurations of the wider system

This is another place where I use some systems modelling. I use a number of approaches, depending upon the context of the situation. These approaches help me to understand what configuration might be most useful to you and allow you to be more adaptable moving forward.

I support collective decision making

Particularly in complex situations a collective decision can mean you get buy-in right from the start. Not all decisions can be made collectively of course but I do try to avoid top down dictates. I believe in the expertise that exists in systems and can often be ‘hidden’. I like to tap into that and make sure it is utilised and people are recognised for it.

I share whatever I can to help you learn

I don’t believe in keeping my ways of working to myself. When I work with you I put as much effort into sharing as I do into doing any other aspect of the work. The more systems and complexity thinking I can ‘infect’ you with the better, in my opinion. I try not to use technical language and complex ways of describing things. I try and keep it as simple as possible so that you can use the learning yourselves and pass it on to others.

 

Systems thinkers can bring a very different perspective to your work. They can help you understand why something keeps happening over and over again and can help you find options for improvement that you might never have thought of.

What can a professional ice hockey player teach us about system change? Quite a lot, I believe!

I had the pleasure of listening to Curtis Brackenbury talk about his work on ‘Optimising Human Performance’ this week. No, he isn’t an academic or a systems practitioner, he is a professional ice hockey player and coach and yet he applies elements of NLP and viable system modelling to his training and coaching and what a result he gets! (http://www.legendsofhockey.net/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SearchPlayer.jsp?player=12084)

Rather than describing his methods in detail, I’m going to cut straight to what I, personally, saw in his work that resonated with me about applying the viable systems model, on the ground, for transformation or system change. This is what I call ‘the glue’, the stuff that makes it work and, sadly, the stuff that people often miss out and then wonder why they are not getting results.

Elements of the VSM that I saw in his work, with my own comments added underneath:

• The importance of effective and quick data sharing across the whole group and good general sharing mechanisms, to allow continual adjustment

  • this is a very important aspect of viable systems. Real time data sharing is one of the key enablers for a system to be viable. The quicker and more real time the data, the more chance you have of enabling continual adjustment and adaptability which are absolutely key, particularly for system change.

• Having a dynamic approach

  • Again, absolutely key to enabling an effective viable system. A dynamic approach supports ongoing adaptability and encourages change

• Have a number of contingencies in place and accept that things can’t be heavily planned

  • This is a key mindset for ongoing adaptability and regeneration. Heavy planning is not as important as being able to adapt

• Continual feedback and learning across the system

  • Between every element of the viable system model is a feedback loop. Understanding these feedback loops can be a key element of success. Also, If the system is not undertaking double or triple loop learning, then it is unlikely to be viable in the longer term.

• Have strong control mechanisms in place (i.e. coaches)

  • Having things in place that can bring the system back within its control limits is key for a viable system

• No so much focus on the ‘cogs’ but lots of focus on the regulation (particularly self-regulation)

  • Focussing on the interactions, rather than focussing on the ‘things’, is key to understanding how your system is working, particularly when enacting system change

• Measure in detail and understand the behavioural side of things

  • Part of the monitoring loop and links to self-organisation

• Looking at the athlete holistically within the systems in which they sit

  • As you would look at the system, the system in which it sits and the systems within in. i.e. the 3 levels of recursion you would work with, with a viable system model

• Train for deception – train to create it and train to read it

  • I think this is one of the most important things he said. If you train for deception you are telling you brain not to have a fixed way of doing things. Be prepared for anything, to go in any direction. Just like the speedy self-organisation sometimes required to respond to your environment in real time. This was an EXCELLENT piece of advice, encouraging exactly the right mindset to enable system change

• Look for people’s responses. Look for patterns

  • A true system thinker!

Aspects that I picked up in his talk that I think are essential to your leadership style when using systems thinking in practice (with my comments underneath):

• The importance of identity, culture and being part of something important

  • Absolutely yes. Identity is extremely important for a viable system. If you don’t know your identity and you can’t self-regulate then it is unlikely you will be able to engage in the self-organisation required to maintain viability. If you don’t feel like you are part of something important, you are in the wrong place!

• You have got to let go of the ego

  • This is absolutely spot on! Using systems thinking, if you don’t let go of your ego you will never break through the barriers to allow yourself to see what is happening in the situation. You will always have an ‘ego filter’ that tells you why something isn’t so. You have to be humble to use systems thinking or you will never challenge yourself and never become as adaptable as you need to be

• Identify the value added for the individual to highlight why they would do something

  • Absolutely! This is like ‘show, don’t tell’. You have to highlight what the value would be to the individual of using systems thinking or viable system modelling, not sell the thinking or the model per se, or you are wasting your time. Show the value, not the ‘thing’

• Respectful relationships are key

  • Obvious, really

• You need the courage to be vulnerable

  • This is absolutely key when using systems thinking and viable system modelling for transformation or system change. If you aren’t prepared to be vulnerable enough to go on a journey of discovery, then any attempts at applying different thinking will be a complete waste of time

• Do not get locked into one paradigm

  • Absolutely! And yet so very difficult. Many people do not understand that they are locked in a certain paradigm and awareness of this can be a key enabler in system change. It can alter mindsets and open up a whole new set of perspectives.

• You need observation of behaviours and a focus on continual self-regulation

  • Again, absolutely, yes! This links to the competencies that are required for managing complexity and managing in complexity. Gareth Morgan’s work on competencies required in complexity fits nicely here. If you don’t know his work, his book, ‘Riding the Waves of Change’ gives an excellent account of these competencies

• Embrace failure and embrace fatigue

  • Because of you don’t accept failure and fatigue you won’t have the grit required to deal with what viable system modelling exposes. You will definitely not be able to ‘put things right’, you will only be able to make things improve somewhat from where they are now. So, you need to be able to accept a degree of failure and this will, at times, leave you fatigued

• You must be aware yourself of what you are asking others to do – you need to know how they will experience something

  • Another thing that I think is KEY. I get a little tired of hero ‘leaders’ and consultants telling everyone to be hugely radical, when they have never done that or experienced that themselves. Sometimes, system change does not happen like that. In complexity, huge radical changes are sometimes not required. A number of smaller changes, at the same time, can often work better and be more sustainable, in my experience. My advice would be not to encourage everyone, in every situation, to be radical if you don’t know what you are asking them to do. At best it might cause lots of upset and at worst, it could lose them their jobs.

Some very key insights there, in my perspective. Thank you, Curtis, for a very interesting talk. I wish we could find more of this to share with the wider systems thinking community and with students. I think we have far too much regurgitation of the diagram of a model and far too little about practical application and especially the aspects relating to people and competencies and behaviours that are required to make it all work in practice.