Course Description

The business world today is in constant and rapid change. As a result, the success and viability of any company is dependent on the ability of its managers to learn and to respond to the changing environment. In the words of Revan, ‘for an organization to remain viable the rate of learning internally must be equal to or greater than the rate of change in its context’. Revan alludes to the well-known concept of the need for requisite variety within organizations. The inability to understand and to meet the demands of this ever increasing and rapidly changing business context has led to the demise of many business entities.


Managers who are often skilled in technical fields find themselves quite challenged by the ever increasing rate of complexity and demands especially when dealing with the ‘softer’ people issues. Unfortunately though, classical management approaches have tended to be rather linear and do not provide the skills to manage complexity that arises especially when dealing with the unpredictable human factor. Yet it is this human factor that often determines the success and viability of companies. Managing effectively in an ever changing context requires a different way of thinking. It is here that insights from the field of systems thinking provide a helpful angle to managers, enabling them not only to manage the obvious rational processes but importantly to understand the emotive elements that accompany change. Systems thinking also equip managers with the ability to see the interconnected and interdependent nature of society and organizations and to factor this in their business efforts. The course works with case studies that are derived from the participants in the course. In that way, it provides an opportunity to the students to engage with a complex and messy real life situation that they face in their workplaces. The course is also very interactive and reflective enabling the participants to apply the lessons learnt to their own lives as well.


Topics include:


Topic 1 Self-differentiated leadership

Key Issues:

  • Personal mastery
  • Leadership pipeline
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Followership
  • Self- awareness and management


Topic 2 Complexity in the world of work

Key Issues:

  • The fast pace of global change
  • The key drivers of the change and complexity in the world of work
  • The implications of the complexity on businesses
  • The implications of the complexity on leaders and managers


Topic 3 Traditional approaches to management

  • The origins of mechanistic thinking
  • The challenges of mechanistic thinking


Topic 4 Systems thinking

Key Issues:

  • Concepts in systems thinking
  • How to ensure viability in organizations
  • How to manage diverse stakeholders in organizations
  • Managing power relations in organizations
  • An overview of various disciplines within systems thinking


Topic 5 Systems thinking and organizational change

  • Understanding dynamics of change
  • Managing anxiety in times of change
  • Stuckness and organizational change


Topic 6 Team and team performance

Key Issues:

  • Teams or groups?
  • Team development
  • Situational Leadership
  • Coaching for performance


Topic 7 Systems thinking for di(solving) messy situations.

Key Issues:

  • Working with questions
  • Organizational culture
  • Measures of success in organizations



The aim of the course is to promote a systemic approach to managing organisations in a context of rapid change and complexity. Systems thinking emerged as a reaction to the linear, reductionist approaches commonly used in managing organizations. The course will introduce participants to systems thinking concepts like interdependence, emergence, feedback loops, homeostasis, and boundary critique.


Specific attributes include:

  • Complexity in the world of work and its impact on leadership and management of organizations
  • Systems thinking concepts
  • Systems thinking methodologies including the viable systems model, soft systems methodology and critical systems heuristics.

Some concepts from the field of family systems theory including anxiety and emotional fields, self-differentiated leadership, stuckness, triangulation and polarities.



The course runs over 3 consecutive days. The course will be case-based and interactive. The case studies will be developed from actual situations that the students are facing thus making the course practical and relevant. A number of video documentaries relevant to the course are used to enrich the learning experience.



Individual assignment

The individual assignment is around applying the learning on systems thinking to an organizational situation that the student is facing.


Small group project:

The small group project is on an identified business issue. The small group researches on the challenge and develops a proposal (and or a presentation depending on the business needs.)

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