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The Art of Systems Thinking - Part Three

Approaching your organisational problems and learning needs with a ‘Systems Thinking’ mind-set allows you to look at the bigger picture and design relevant and effective solutions (that really work!).

So, let’s get started on exploration of the ‘Underlying Systematic Structure’. This stage delves deeper than the previous blogs on ‘Events’ and ‘Patterns of Behaviour’, and will explore ‘the structural forces at play contributing to organisational patterns’. You can see it situated on the third level of the pyramid below.

The Iceberg Model (Northwest Earth Institute, 2017). 

                                        Underlying Systematic Structure (Design):

Looking at the ‘Underlying Systematic Structure’ in an organisation allows you to explore a range of factors that may be contributing to problems and learning needs. When you are addressing a problem in your organisation you may ask yourself,

                                    ‘What is causing the pattern we are observing?’

As discussed in our blog on ‘Patterns of Behaviour' , patterns in an organisation are events that occur consistently. An example of this is that 60% of new starters quit after 3 months.

The answer to what is causing the patterns or trends will often be some form of structure (Northwest Earth Institute, 2017). A structure can be anything from a policy to a physical office space. The structure and the problem that originates from it can be understood as a cause and effect relationship. Some examples of this are:

· Increased stress in staff members due to a new Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

· A decrease in team work and cohesion in an organisation due to the introduction of a new value encouraging competitiveness. 

· A decrease in innovative thinking in an organisation due to punishments being introduced for mistakes.

Structures can have a significant impact on events that play out in an organisation and can easily slip under the radar. I have noticed a trend across many organisations where staff are not aligned with how the leaders would like them to behave. The leaders may believe that it is the people they have hired that are not aligned (which may well be the case) with their thinking, when in reality, it is due to a structure they have put in place.

Imagine working for an organisation that consistently encourages you to be innovative and come up with new ideas, though you are also consistently punished for making mistakes. It is therefore unlikely that you will come up with new ways of doing things or change processes because the risk of getting it wrong far outweighs the chance of getting it right. This is an example of a ‘Underlying Systematic Structure’ creating a ‘Pattern of Behaviour’.


1. Take the time to look at the structures that are in place in your organisation and how they may be impacting events that are taking place. Structures can be split into:

a. Physical things: vending machines, office areas and computers etc.

b. Organisations: corporations and government organisations etc.

c. Policies: laws and rules etc.

d. Ritual: habitual behaviours.

(Northwest Earth Institute, 2017).

2. Do your organisational values align with the structures that are in place? E.g. if you encourage excellence from your staff members, do you provide them with the resources they need and the time in the day to achieve excellence?

3. Understanding the impact that structures can have on events in your organisation will allow you to solve problems easily due to understanding how they originated (and why they continue to play out).

4. Having a knowledge of structures in your organisation and how they align to expected behaviours enables consistency. You want to avoid asking your organisation to behave in a certain way when the structure of their job doesn’t support it. This can create frustration and loss of engagement. E.g. You encourage staff to leave work on time and have work-life balance, when in reality, supervisors within the organisation consistently pressure staff to work late to achieve deadlines. You could do further exploration and find out that supervisors are pressuring staff to meet deadlines because there is a bonus system in place that rewards supervisors for consistently meeting their deadlines.

This blog is the third part of the blog series on ‘Systems Thinking’. If you missed the first two blogs on this topic, I recommend you check them out (here for Part One and here for Part Two). This will provide you with an overview of ‘Systems Thinking’ and some neat insights into the topic.

Can you think of any structures in your organisation that are potentially having an impact on events taking place? Keep an eye out for the last blog in this series on the ‘Mental Model’. Here at Belvista Studios we want to continue to support businesses and ourselves be the best we can at our craft. We look forward to continuing this learning journey on ‘Systems Thinking’ and supporting you to apply it to your organisation.


Northwest Earth Institute (2017). A Systems Thinking Model: The Iceberg. Retrieved from:

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