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Systems Thinking and Organisations

by Ruth Jolly



It is understood that we face volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times - where “wicked problems” abound – that’s to say problems whose solutions require a great number of people to change mind-sets and behaviour.


As individuals, we are all members of groups, teams, organisations, networks and even movements of some kind….it’s a good time to think a little about how we understand the nature of groups – and what mind-sets we’re using - in order to best tackle contemporary times and challenges.


We are becoming more confident and convinced that Systems Thinking and Complexity Theory are hugely helpful concepts to use as we work in and with organisations.



Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, illuminates Systems Thinking and Complexity Theory stating:

You can only understand the system of a rainstorm by contemplating the whole, not any individual part of the pattern…business and other human endeavours are also systems…Systems Thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools, that has been developed over the past 50 years to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change them effectively”

If we describe organisations as “complex adaptive systems” which function as fluid, living systems, how do members and leaders best serve and flourish? What do we think is required of being a member of such systems? 

Talking about these topics can open remarkable space for insights, along with new directions and possibilities.  And if language is truly generative then talking about an organisation as an open, complex (not complicated!) living network, requiring healthy feedback loops, living with conflict and uncertainty as part of the terrain, produces different results from talking about organisations as if they were closed structures to be managed.


Read more about our approach in our 'Stories and patterns of change' publication.


*Brain Network by Bob Holzer from the Noun Project