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The key to Systems Thinking is seeing the world as a collection of living and interdependent systems. The world can be divided up into eight levels that illustrate the universal use of Systems Thinking.
The Eight Levels of Systems Thinking are in hierarchical relationships with each other, systems within systems. These living systems begin with earth as the largest living system and extend all the way down to cells, the smallest living system:
Group, team or department
These interrelated hierarchies of systems show that hierarchies are natural and normal. The focus is to have the minimum hierarchy, not bureaucracy, working with you to achieve your goals or outcomes.
Further, it is the collision of systems within and among these levels—especially levels three, four, five and six—that creates the complexity and chaos we often feel in today’s world.
The three key levels of living systems that affect organizations are individuals, teams and organizations. Their three levels of collisions or collaboration are one-to-one, team-to-team and organization-to-environment (all systems with other systems).
The Eight Levels of Living Systems and their systems collisions can be envisioned as concentric circles or rings rippling out from the individual to society.
There are purposes for developing each ring:
Ring #3. Individuals: Self-Mastery
• To improve personal competency and effectiveness.
• To work on trustworthiness issues within oneself.
Ring #3A. One-to-One Relationships: Interpersonal Skills
• To improve interpersonal skills, working relationships and effectiveness of each individual.
• To work on trust issues between individuals.
Ring #4. Work Teams or Groups: Team Effectiveness
• To improve effectiveness of the work team.
• To empower and work on role or relationship issues.
Ring #4A. Inter-Group: Conflict Cooperation
• To improve working relationships and business processes between departments to better serve customers.
• To work on horizontal collaboration and integration issues.
Ring #5. Total Organization: Fit and Strategic Plan
• To improve the organization’s structures and processes to better achieve business results and develop an adaptive response system capacity in a changing environment.
• To work on alignment and attunement issues.
Ring #5A. Organization-Environment: Alliances
• To improve organization’s sense of direction, response to customers and proactive management of its environment.
• To adapt to environmental issues.
Ring #6. Community
• To contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life in communities and the larger society (Ring #7).
• To address the big or small societal issues that exist.
Become a systems thinker!
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