Thinking about systems

I’m taking some time to learn about systems thinking. Businesses are basically a big system that is made up of hundreds (thousands?) of smaller systems.

My understanding is very basic but the exercise of breaking a business down into its component systems is a really interesting exercise. One that leads to a better understanding and might result in new ideas.

A system, at it’s most basic, is a group of elements, connected by relationships and paired with a purpose. Elements can be visible and physical or intangible. Eg you can see and touch the physical things that make up an office but the culture in that office is way more amorphous. However, in a great company, culture could be a system in it’s own right.

Relationships hold the elements together. They include things like norms, processes and standards but it’s the role of purpose that really intrigues me. Purpose is what the system is seen to do rather than what it says it is going to do. That’s why it’s so important for a companies stated purpose to be authentic and alive.

Elements can change easily, so to some extent can relationships but purpose is the glue that holds it all together.