The world of work 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 organisation 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 concept of the need for requisite variety within organisations.


Managers who are often skilled in technical fields find themselves quite challenged by the ever increasing rate of complexity and demands 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 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 nature of society and organisations and to factor this in their business efforts. It is vital to equip the managers with the skills to think systemically as well as with some tools to enable them better understand and manage the complex situations that confront them in a way that leads to high organisational performance.


Our approach

It is in response to the above need that we have developed a very practical three day course on Leadership & Management specifically aimed at senior and middle managers. The three days can be structured to the needs and timelines of an organization. For example, creating space between days 2 and 3 enables managers to implement what they have learnt in the course and to report back and reflect on their experience.


This course is premised on the following principles;

  1. It is based on adult learning processes allowing for the manager to be a participant in the design of their learning process. The participants are assisted to bring their working situation into the learning environment in every session. Their experience then forms the backdrop for their learning for the entire six sessions. Each session concludes with an on the job assignment as well as a structured homework reading. The participants have to report back on their readings as well as on the assignment in the next session. At the conclusion of the course, each individual participant leaves with a prioritized action list.
  2. The course is also very practical and creative making use of fun-filled simulated activities. The course in itself can therefore be used as a team building process. It allows for managers to be engaged through out the sessions and to be rejuvenated as well. The sessions will create a platform for peer to peer assist among the managers.
  3. The course is based on sound theoretical framework. The content as well as the process has been developed by experienced consultants and facilitators who are also researching and lecturing in areas of systems based capacity development. The theory is presented in easy to understand bite -sized chunks with extra readings provided for those who may want to get more theoretical connections. Optional one on one coaching is provided for managers who may be involved in complex change or conflict processes within their business units.


The Course details

The course consists of three full day sessions that enable current and future managers to develop and improve their leadership and management skills. It includes in class discussion and input sessions, some homework reading as well as on the job assignments. The curriculum is designed to foster a safe, supportive environment for professional growth in which participants;

  • Establish a platform for peer assist within the group
  • Understand the interconnectedness of organizational systems and processes
  • Clarify their roles as leaders and managers
  • Affirm, strengthen, and challenge themselves and each other to achieve personal and organizational objectives.

Day One

Session one: The Changing world of work

This session introduces participants to the day through a discussion of how the world of work has changed in the last few years mainly driven by technological changes in cellphone, internet and the television. The aim of this session is to get the participants to appreciate the increasing complexity in a rapidly changing world. This session also assists the participants in identifying a complex situation they face in their work environment and working with it as a case study.

Session two: Introducing systems thinking

The second session is a facilitated discussion of how the predominant mechanistic/ linear approaches to managing complex situations are not effective or appropriate for challenges of a new era. Systems thinking is then introduced as a means of making sense of the complexity. All the time, reflective space is created for people to delve into their case study and identify instances of inappropriate use of mechanistic approaches for complex situation they are facing.

Session three: Applying systems thinking

The third session of the day seeks to bring the individual ‘as a system’ in relation to the messy context. It introduces a conversation on organisational anxiety based on the work of Murray Bowen and Edwin Friedman. A number of lenses are given here looking at organisational stuckness when there is chronic anxiety. Again here the participants are given time to reflect on their case study to identify instances of organisational stuckness. This session also discusses the concept of self differentiation as a means to manage the complexity and anxiety in the organisation.


Day two:

Morning session

This session will see participants introduced to framework building and beginning with inter-relationships using influence diagramming as way of building on the case studies and rich pictures of Day 1

Afternoon session

This session introduces participants to the element of multiple perspectives using some simple and practical techniques like the what/how/why modeling.

Day three

Morning session:

The participants continue to work on their case studies using concepts like boundary judgment using critical reference systems (CSH) as expansions of ‘what/how/why’. This session will also see participants develop action plans for re-entry and possible implementation into the workplace.


The Facilitators

Samuel Njenga

Mr. Samuel Njenga specialises in areas of leadership and organisational development. In this role, he has consulted widely with numerous Corporates, Government and Non-governmental organisations in Southern Africa around various aspects of capacity building. His other areas of interest include how organisations learn, enhancing viability in public organisations, as well as how to encourage Communities of Practice as a means to knowledge sharing. Njenga holds a Bachelors of Education (Hons) from Kenyatta University, Nairobi, a Master of Arts in Organisational Leadership from Eastern University (USA), a Master of Commerce in Organisational Management & Systems (from University of KwaZulu Natal). He is the co-author of; Leading the Way through CSI: A Guidebook for Corporate Social Investment Practitioners.


Martin Reynolds

Dr Martin Reynolds received his BSc (Hons) in Liberal Studies in Science at the University of Manchester in 1978, and later his PhD in International Development at the Institute for International Development Policy and Management (IDPM) at the University of Manchester in 1998. In the interim he taught Science at senior secondary schools in London and in Botswana. In 1999 he worked with Gerald Midgley on a postdoctoral research project at Hull University exploring the use of systems thinking for environmental management.

He joined the Open University in December 2000. Currently Martin is a Senior Lecturer in Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) and Qualifications Director for the postgraduate programme in STiP. His research and teaching interests are shown below.


Research and scholarship activities are primarily focused on applying critical systems thinking (CST) in relation to evaluation practices, managing the environment, business administration, and international development. Current and past activities include involvement with: US AID support for collaboration with partners in southern Africa to explore cooperative wetland management in Limpopo Basin; European funding to support Parliamentary involvement with developmental evaluation; ESRC – supported work in using critical systems heuristics for community wetland management in Guyana; EPSRC – supported work on critical systems thinking for energy security; EU funding for supporting Social Learning in Water Management (SLIM); and promoting continual professional development with Systems thinking and evaluation – designing and facilitating a series of workshops through auspices of American Evaluation Association and European Evaluation Association, including work with GIZ (in Germany) SDC (in Switzerland) and SLeVA (in Sri Lanka) and UKES (in UK). He is a co-founding member of the Open Systems Research Group which in 2013 regrouped to become the current Applied Systems Thinking in Practice (ASTiP) Network.

Martin is currently module team chair of TD866 Environmental Responsibility: ethics, policy and action and TU811 Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change. He is module team member and contributing author for BB847 Management Beyond the Mainstream (part of MBA programme) and T891 Making Environmental Decisions (which is replacing T863 Environmental Decision Making: A systems approach). He was previously Chair for T306 Managing Complexity: A systems approach, and module team member and author for TU872 Institutional Development: conflicts, values and meanings.