Academic Paper – Managing the Systems way

Systems Thinking

I have structured this paper to firstly examine the origin of the systems thinking approach towards managing, understanding and mitigating complex challenges faced by business.


Systems thinking is thought to have originated in the early part of the last century and started in a few different disciplines, namely biology and engineering. The need for a systems approach in these disciplines came from an observation that there were many aspects, where scientific analysis alone could not adequately explore in a definitive fashion. The scientific approach (summarised by Popper as the three R’s reduction, repeatability and refutation) in which we aim to increase our knowledge about a specific subject by breaking things down into their constituent parts and then exploring the properties of these parts. Systems’ thinking on the other hand explores all the properties which exist once the constituent parts have combined to form the whole. The early approach to systems thinking in the 40 and 50 assumed that the scientific approach would eventually be broken into two parts, namely analytical thinking and systems thinking.

Definition of Systems Thinking

At the fundamental level, the essence of systems thinking revolves around an approach, which sees inter-relationships, rather than exploring a linear cause and effect chain process. It seeks to explore an entire process of change, rather than looking at snapshots along the way.

Systems’ thinking is a complex approach, where things are interpreted as a series of interconnected and inter related wholes. It is an approach for identifying the inherent organisation within complex situations and has been referred to as “Organised Complexity” in some quarters. It is crucial that systems thinkers contrast dynamic complexity (the relationship between things) with detail complexity (detail about things).

Definition of a System

In its simplest form a system is a set of interconnected elements, which for a whole. The system is seen as a whole and not broken down into its component parts.

Types of Systems

  • Biological organisms – Natural Systems
  • Inanimate systems e.g. building – Man Made Physical Systems
  • Mathematical formulas or equations – Man Made Abstract systems
  • Task completion – Activity System

It is important to note that an activity system is different from the first three, because the first three can be described objectively, whereas an activity system needs to consider the human element and consider all participants in the process. Each individual involved will perceive things differently and will respond individually when performing their individual role. Each person’s act should be interpreted logically and as such there is no right or wrong answer. It is for this reason that (Ackoff) spoke of the need for objectivity as a means for understanding and interpreting open interaction between a variety of individuals, carrying out any activity within an activity system.

Historical Background

The systems approach was first alluded to by Aristotle, when he said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This concept was unfortunately lost in the Newtonian scientific revolution in the 17th century. The systems approach only gathered momentum again in the 1920’s when biologists noted that there was a system of organised complexity in the organisms they studied. The pure Newtonian approach was ineffectual, when trying to explain the ever more complex arrangements that emerged at every higher and higher level. They needed a way of explaining the properties which emerged as organisms combined and each level was more complex than the level below it. Broad 1923, Smuts 1924 cited in Checkland that a hierarchy existed in which the levels of organisation, which existed, each more complex than the one below it. They noted that certain properties emerged at each new level, which did not exist at any previous lower level. This is where the systems approach first began to become prevalent within the field of biology.

In 1940 Von Bertalanffy, first noted the distinct difference between open and closed systems. He noted that closed systems were totally autonomous, with no relationship to their environment at all. Open systems on the other hand were constantly exchanging with their environment, materials, energy or information. It is important to note that closed systems only exist within Man Made Abstract Systems. Almost all the systems that will be of concern to most business professionals will be open systems.

The 1940’s was a great period for the development of the systems approach and Wiener and Bigelow, drawing on their extensive background in the field of cybernetics and control engineering, realised the crucial importance of feedback. In other words they realised that within any system there was always an inter influence on other parts of the system. They identified that there was both positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback has since been classified as amplification or reinforcing feedback and negative feedback as balancing feedback.

Example: A good example of amplifying feedback would be the positive interaction between two new work colleagues, in which they mirror the open pleasant way they respond towards each other. As they are more open with each other, each in turn becomes more open and they begin to share freely with and supporting each other. They soon start to collaborate in a very positive and constructive way. The opposite is also true, if the relationship started and progressed with a very distant smile and was kept at arm’s length. The relationship would have developed very differently and the colleges would have gradually become more and more distant, never collaborating and working successfully together.

An example of balancing feedback is exemplified by any kind of thermostatic device, either manmade or biological.

The 1950,s saw the real birth of the systems approach to engineering, where it was aimed at designing or changing the sense of pure engineering, where a systems approach was used to manage more complex systems. This was the birth of the systems approach as we know it today. It was around this time that it was noted that the approach was suitable for application in the human activity field as well.

Systems Analysis

RanD Corporation in The United States of America, developed the Systems Analysis approach at around the same time. They developed this approach by drawing on operational research, which they gleaned from military operations during WW II. This was at its foundation a form of cost-benefit analysis and requires the following input information:

  • Definition of objectives
  • Options or alternative techniques to achieve the desired objectives
  • Resources and costs to supply said resources
  • Mathematical model to show interdependence of each objective on the other.
  • Measurement and analysis of all criterion, relating to all the objectives and related costs. This was all combined to choose the preferred alternative.

This system was not very successful when applied to human activity systems as the engineer remained outside the system, trying to intervene and reach a desired result from the outside.

In the 1970 the initial work of Ackoff, finally made the realisation that in human activity systems, it is often difficult or impossible to name the system and as the objectives are often multiple and even conflicting. It was finally given the term MESS.

A MESS is a dynamic system of problems or challenges.

As there are people involved and more often than, there are conflicting objectives in almost every business situation, business leadership and management is all about dealing with messes.

This led to Checkland in the 1980’s developing a methodology for working within soft systems, where it was not easy to identify the problem per se and quantifying it was impossible. These problems were ill-defined, ill structured and there is no agreement on objectives.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s system’s thinking was refined and made more accessible to managers, by people like Peter Senge of MIT. He was instrumental in incorporating it into wider field of organisational and individual learning. He was heavily influenced by the work of Chris Argyris and David Bohm. Their contribution led to the development of the SYSTEMS ARCHETYPES or the influence of patterns, which can be found in many different systems.

More recently this work has been expanded even further by combining large group interventions using systems thinking and has led to the development of a field called Whole Systems. Plamping, Pratt and Gordon worked with the whole systems principle, tackling intractable problems, in the health care industry. They explored many different stakeholders in their study, including health and other statutory agencies, health service users, communities and voluntary organisations.

Development of Chaos Theory

Early systems thinkers were over ambitious in their belief that the dynamics of a system could be completely analysed. This led to the development of Chaos theory, where it is understood that complex dynamic systems are very sensitive to initial starting conditions and as such are unlikely to yield to analysis in the traditional systems way.

Chaos theory has not totally replaced systems thinking and made it null and void. Systems theory remains a crucial component of complexity theory and many of the insights, which get labelled complexity, are in effect really systems concepts. We are effectively trying to consider how to intervene in a human activity system and as such, it is seldom possible to define it with complete accuracy, the insights offered by soft systems thinking is often very useful too.

Systems Thinking – Insights

  • Whole systems, when divided are never the same as the whole. Cutting an ant in half does not produce two small ants. (Senge). We cannot observe a whole system and expect to see the workings of the whole system, because some properties within the system only emerge when the system works together as a whole.
  • There is a reciprocal flow of influence between the constituent parts of any system. In most management situations it is far more important to understand this dynamic complexity, than it is to understand the detail complexity within the system. This inter-relationship between all the component parts within any organisation means that cause and effect and not necessarily directly related to actual time and space. Meaning that any intervention within any business system may result in unexpected outcomes. This means that when dealing with any system within an organisation there may be unexpected effects, in parts of the system we were unaware we were influencing, when working with other parts of the system.
  • Systems within any business interact extensively with their environment. It is therefore crucial to explore any system within the context of its environment. The environment needs to be observed and considered from two distinct perspectives. Firstly the environment over which the system has influence and secondly the environment over which the system has no influence. It is thus crucial that when exploring any system that we describe the environment and the influence it has on any part of the system.
  • All systems have a purpose – This purpose is sometimes evident and understood and shared by all. Sometimes the purpose is driven by the perceptions of the people involved in the system. Every human contributor to any system brings their perceptions and understanding of its purpose. The views brought by each individual consist of three elements, namely rational, emotional and cultural. Understanding the purpose of a system requires an acute understanding of organisational behaviour and psychology.
  • As with anything in nature, systems stabilise in equilibrium and require a source of energy to shift this equilibrium, if there is to be any change to the point of equilibrium. The energy can either come from outside the system i.e. a hard systems approach or it can come from within the system I.e. a soft systems approach. The hard systems approach requires an understanding of the purpose of the system, a measure of performance, understanding the decision making process, understanding the boundaries which exist between the system and its environment and obviously the system dynamics. When intervening in any system, where you want to change the point of equilibrium, it is crucial that you identify the source of energy and the nature of the energy.
  • Understand that there are many systems nested within other systems and there is always an inter-relationship across any organisation. This must always be considered when any change intervention is considered.
  • Dynamic complexity can be modelled by expressing both negative and positive feedback and the insights gained from these, is used to remodel the system.

The Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect is simply the effect of a very small difference in the beginning of any process or system, has a massive effect or difference at the end of the process or within a system.

This concept has far reaching consequences for businesses:

  • Everything is interconnected and as such, small changes in the early stages of any business process can have far reaching effects later on.
  • For every cause there is always a responding effect and even small changes or differences early on in any system can result in challenges later on
  • Every decision is inter-related to everything within the system and as such, it is crucial to consider the impact of all choices and decisions made.
  • You can achieve significant and far reaching outcomes with very small shifts in behaviour, philosophy and activity.

Everything is interconnected and every action you take or fail to take has far reaching consequences and effects in every facet of your personal and business life.

This means that it is crucial that you reduce activities into manageable tasks that are clearly understood and actioned. Each small action, no matter how insignificant, allows you to build momentum, which in turn results in greater and greater returns in the long run.

A Stakeholders View of On-Going Industrial Action

In this example I am utilising my own company Namely Accord Engineering. We are involved in the manufacture and distribution of steel bench vices and Industrial tools and tooling throughout South Africa. We own and operate a manufacturing facility in Benoni, where we have a very well established manufacturing team of qualified technicians. Most of the team have been with the company for more than 15 years. The business has been around since 1898 and owns a well-respected brand, namely “Record Tools”. This is the premium brand in the steel bench vice market. We supply in excess of 90 % of the steel vices used in heavy industrial applications in South Africa.

Despite being the preferred, premium brand for the supply of steel bench vices in South Africa, we are constantly under threat from cheaper steel vices manufactured in India and China. We have managed to remain the market leader, despite the entry of much cheaper alternatives, due to our very high quality standards and customer service levels. We are this very dependent on our team to consistently deliver high quality product at volumes, which will keep us profitable.

Most of our staff have long service with our company and never engage in Industrial action. We have great relationships with our entire team and think of ourselves as a family. Despite the on-going industrial action in the steel manufacturing industry over the past few years, my team has never participated and have never engaged in an strike action, until August Last year. The strikers were extremely violent and actually came to my factory, where they attacked a few of my team members. My team was justifiably intimidated and in the interests of their safety I agreed that they stay away from work.

My team were forced against their will to stay away from work for two weeks. As I was unable to produce any product during this period, it was not possible to pay my team during this period. They all lost a significant amount of income and both my team and their families were very negatively affected by this forced work stoppage. This two week forced strike gave me an opportunity to sit back and analyse this unfortunate incident and its effects on all stakeholders, from a systematic perspective. My objective was to try to make sense of this senseless incident and how it had affected all concerned.


The business is organised in a very flat structure with very few “managers” in the traditional sense. We operate as a very effective team and as such, all team members are self-driven and there is a significant interdependence between all team members. Each team member realises that if they do not deliver their best every day, there are ramifications down the line. If one team member does not produce sufficient product that day or week, their team members will then be unable to keep producing sufficient production at their specific part in the production process.

The team is very mature and work well together, they realise how they depend on each other to keep the flow of production going. There is very little need for direct daily intervention at an operational level. The team is informed daily via an informal meeting every morning regarding expectations that day. At the end of the day they are told how they did and any areas, which may need improving, so that they can avoid bottlenecks going forward. This system is reinforced every Friday afternoon, where individuals are recognised for any really special achievements. Team members are recognised by their colleges. It is not a manager who decides who should be recognised.

Effect on Stakeholders

From a stakeholder point of view the largest impact of the forced strike action, was on the team members themselves. They are a very committed team and until this unfortunate incident, had never felt the need to engage in any industrial action at all. In fact the very thought of any industrial action flew in the face of the whole culture of the organisation.

The largest purchaser of our products is Newell Rubbermaid, an international business, with their head office in the USA. As we hold a big inventory of vices in stock, there was a minimal impact on them. The strike action did most certainly negatively affect their sentiment towards the Local supply of vices and they once again started to look for alternative vice supplies in India and China. This was to ensure that, should there be any further industrial action in the future, they would have an alternative to our product.

Our brand strength and product quality, will always be a factor and although they flexed their muscles and made threats. It will be difficult for them to get an alternative supplier, who can provide the consistent quality and quantity of vices we provide. Our suppliers are accustomed to industrial action throughout South Africa and were extremely supportive and understanding.

The impact from a political and economic perspective was also significant. It most certainly changed my view and that of my team towards industrial action. Both my team and I could not see how a group of criminals, could use intimidation to force a group of hard working, industrious people, who were happy with their working conditions to engage in a strike against their will. The discussions I held with my various team members, showed me that this sort of behaviour was not only affecting the economy as a whole. Denting our credibility as an investment opportunity for overseas investors, but was also forcing the people within our own borders to start to lose faith in the future.

As you know sentiment is what drives most economies and as this criminal behaviour is allowed to continue and innocent people are exposed to it. The sentiment amongst the average person continues to plummet. The unions responsible for allowing this sort of behaviour are destroying the very jobs they are trying to create and at the same time causing more financially viable companies to move into the red.

There are only losers, during this sort of action and all stakeholders including the unions are all worse off. There are not many unionised members at my factory. After this incident, every single member cancelled their membership with NUM. There is a growing need to be creating jobs for youngsters, who are entering the labour market. The new youth program is an excellent concept and will help this part of the economy get the much needed employment they need.

Yes there are disparities that need to be addressed and wages need to be brought into line. The way that it is being done, where people are killed, intimidated and forced to do things against their will flies in the face of the very thing the strikers are fighting for, namely better wages and working conditions. We have some serious challenges in this country that I do not in any way hope to address in this paper. It will take the combined effort and commitment on the part of every South African to address all these challenges.

Industrial action

There are many occasions where industrial action has been the only alternative and has resulted in fantastic reforms and improvements. The challenge we have is that people’s expectations exceed the country’s ability to address the challenges in a timeous fashion. Industrial action takes on many guises, from low key activities like ‘go slow” action to highly disruptive action like the action my team was exposed to when very militant strikers impose their will on people who do not want anything to do with the industrial action. This type of action causes anger, disappointment and grief amongst all the stakeholders.

Feedback Loop

There is an inter-related dependence of all parts of the system on each other. The feedback loop plays a significant role in these circumstances. There is a need to change the system and structure of the system to allow the system to find a new point of equilibrium. A point where people can freely engage in industrial action, but people who want to continue working can do so as well.

The current point of equilibrium means that it is necessary to apply energy to the system to move it towards a new point of equilibrium, in which there is more harmony between all the parts of the system. All natural systems always return to a state of equilibrium. It is necessary to find a process of adding energy to this system, which is not working for a significant portion of the system, namely the group within the system, who are satisfied and want to continue working. There needs to be a shift to a place where both parts of the system can work. No one part of the system should be able to have such huge sway and influence on the other.















Model of the System (Organisation) from the Stakeholders Perspective

Exploring this system and the effects that this unsolicited industrial action has had, from a stakeholder’s perspective, requires the observer to stand on the outside of the system to observe the impact on the various separate parts of the system. The internal and external factors influenced all levels of the system separately and collectively. There is interdependence between all the levels and changes in any one will have an effect on some or all of the other levels within the system. For example the external factors i.e the coercion on the part of the striking workers to force my team to stop working against their will had a huge ripple effect on all levels within the system. The effect of this was felt at all levels within the system and the resultant chaos was felt by stakeholders at all levels.

The families of my team members at home were affected, as were the international purchasers of our local manufactured products etc. The challenge we face with this sort of criminal action, is that it threatens the positive working equilibrium which exists within this system. The system is working and all stakeholders are content. Is it thus of any value to be pushed to make changes to a system that is working, to get it to confirm to an external environment that is broken? The organisation is in a great place and the system is working. Should anything be changed to work within the occasional disruptive criminal intent of groups who wish to impose their beliefs and culture from a broken system on one that is working?

There has been a significant amount of damage on many levels within the organisation. My team members feel disillusioned about the political leadership within both the unions and the country as a whole. They are concerned at the loss of income and the suffering this has caused their families. They have even changed their approach toward the company, as they feel that the company should have paid them, despite the fact that they did not work. The company has suffered financially and can never replace the lost production. There has been a huge ripple effect on every level of the organisation. Some of the damage will take years to repair and some of the damage is permanent and may never be resolved.

The initial objective for all industrial action, was to force employers, who were abusing their staff with poor working conditions and bad wages, to stop this bad practice. I fully support the role of uplifting the underprivileged and the economic role of finance and the social objective of upliftment associated with all industrial action.. The challenge we have as stakeholders in this system,  is when external systems with very different agendas, attack a working system and try to impose their will, which is beyond the initial objective of industrial action in the first place, on the working system.

As a working system we as all the stakeholders wish to concentrate on the manufacture of sufficient quantity of the right quality of products. We as stakeholders within a very successful and working system, want to return to equilibrium and be left to resolve and maintain our own processes, within our own system.

Mess Formulation

Searching Phase

  • We will take a snap shot of the current situation
  • Explore all the areas which are not working or malfunctioning. Power, knowledge, wealth and value dimensions. We will explore all the properties which obstruct progress
  • Change any part of the system, plans, policies and/ or programmes and their interactive nature within the system.
  • Great working environment, team very successful and satisfied with wages and working conditions
  • Production of high quality product a priority and a collective responsibility
  • Staffing levels are perfect, the staff retention rate is excellent, with every post filled.
  • Skills levels are excellent as all staff members have been well trained and have been in the employ of the organisation for more than 10 Years
  • Flat organisational structure is very effective as all team members are driven to succeed and are inspired from within
  • All staff members have extended families, who depend on them.
  • The teams are well organised and the leadership is well respected and supported
  • Well established and respected brand.
  • Quality products produced consistently to protect the brand
  • Premium price charged for the high quality and brand loyalty
  • Productivity levels good, due to staff commitment
  • Health and safety measures above legislative requirements. Zero injuries for over five years.
  • The system operates very effectively within the constraints of its internal environment.
  • The policies and rules within the organisation are well documented, but are seldom enforced, as the culture within the system keeps all stakeholders aligned with all policies and requirements.
  • Input is encouraged and supported from all levels within the organisation. The policy within the company is simple. The only bad question or bad feedback, is questions not asked or feedback not offered.
  • This system operates extremely effectively, when not disrupted by external forces.
  • Individual team members are self-driven and the leadership is one of support, rather than prescription.
  • Leadership is to guide, communicate and support. Never to prescribe and dictate.
  • The stakeholders, team members, leaders and the owner are all driven by a similar motive of high quality product, satisfied team members and communal support of objectives.
  • We exceed all legislative requirements on every level, from a health and safety perspective, basic conditions of employment perspective and minimum wages. The legislative requirements do not affect us in any way as we operate at levels which exceed requirements.
  • To Date we have never had any need to engage in any labour related issues with the CCMAA or any other related body.
  • The business is financially sound, but is feeling the pressure of the economic downturn and the competition from cheaper alternatives imported from India and China.
  •  The business is cash positive with good cash and stock reserves.
  • The on-going price increases of electricity, raw materials and other related input costs is a concern and threatens the future profitability of the system.
  • New competitors are entering the market and it is purely the brand loyalty and product quality that is keeping us in the black at present
  • Despite the external pressures from price increases and labour unrest, the company is very stable at present.

Systems Analysis

Current State of the Organisation and the environment

Organization Analysis.

Organisational Description

Analysis of Obstructions and Challenges



  • All stakeholders are satisfied with current conditions
  • Teams are empowered and are reasonably autonomous and self-reliant
  • Teams are not constrained by overly restrictive leadership demands.
  • Our staff retention is excellent and people seldom leave our employ
  • We have never had to call on our disciplinary code
  • We exceed all health and safety requirements and have not had any accidents in over five years.
  • Outside interference from people who are not satisfied with working conditions, criminally intimidating good people to not work against their will
  • Outside people think they have the right to intimidate good people with the threat of violence.
  • People want to impose their problems and unhappiness on others, who are very satisfied and working well in a system that works
  • Innocent people made to suffer unnecessarily due to people within broken systems, being unable to resolve their own issues.
  • Team of loyal and dependant workers victimised and threatened with violence.
  • The team wants to work and are very satisfied with everything within their system and are stopped from doing so by hooligans and criminals.
  • The great team of loyal and satisfied workers is targeted by people who have no understanding of the internal harmony within the system.
  • The team have become disgruntled with unions and do not want anything to do with them anymore
  • The team is in conflict with the law makers (government) and law enforcers (Police) they feel that their right to work should be protected.
  • The team was upset that the ownership of the business refused to pay them, whilst they were away from work. This is a very contentious issue and is the first time there has ever been any conflict between the ownership and team members.
  • The team has recovered from the incident, but it has certainly left a stain on all stakeholders.
  • The staff are still concerned that a similar incident could occur in the future and the current labour unrest in the mining and transport sectors is on the minds of everyone within the system.
  • There is a three year agreement in place at the moment in our industry, but based on the way these agreements have been flouted by both the mining and transport sectors. There is real concern amongst all team members that a similar incident may play out in the very near future, where a criminal element will enter our factory premises and force a very happy team to down tools once again.
  • There are no plans to change anything within the internal structure at present. Everything is working very well and the equilibrium point within the system is very satisfactory.
  • There is most certainly a need to protect the team from outside influence.
  • This must come from government and the police in the external environment
  • Social pressure, where these thugs will be shown that they cannot intimidate innocent people for their own selfish ends.
  • Internal physical systems, where the criminals will be kept out of our plant, by physical barriers, which will protect my team.

Actual case.


System Dynamics

After exploring the system in its current form there are a number of issues that need to be addressed to avoid the possibility of a similar situation in the future. There needs to be a creative solution and some important changes made within the system and changes to the external system must be supported and encouraged. The external influencers government, police, unions and the social understanding amongst citizens needs to be explored and some changes encouraged.

The Da Vinchi Way

I find great merit in the D Vinchi Way as presented and as such wish to adopt this approach to chart the way forward.






  • “As is position” within the system
  • “The as it will be position” if things are left alone and only natural forces are at play.
  • The “As it should be position” – This is the desired state  within the system after changes are made

















The “As Is Position within the System

This has been extensively covered in the preceding part of this paper and as such I will not repeat this here.

The “As it will be” if things are left Unchecked

This situation will spiral out of control and criminal elements within unions, striking workers and even government will believe that they can impose their will on others through the threat of violence. Violent strikes will become the norm and innocent people will be injured in these actions. Innocent people will be killed by striking workers, because they do not share in their radical views. Incidents Like the miners who were mowed down by police during the Marikana incident will become common place as police try to remedy the situation, once it has spiralled out of control, rather than, finding constructive ways to avoid these sorts of incidents in the first place.

These incidents of intimidation and criminal acts of violence against innocent people cannot be stopped once they have actually stated. There needs to be a constructive approach adapted by all stakeholders to find ways of solving the issues, before they spiral out of control. If left unchecked this violence will continue to grow and criminal elements will feel that they can rule others and impose their will on them with violence and intimidation.

It is not unreasonable for very satisfied workers, within a very productive and working system should be allowed to go about their business, without the threat of violence or intimidation. There are most certainly some major changes that need to take place to entrench this right and protect the innocent from criminal; elements. It is crucial to analyse the way forward and how this will impact all stakeholders within the context of the change reality, which exists.

The “As it should be” state

This state of the business will be the picture that will emerge after we have completed the process and discovered the various options, which should be followed to try to move this system and the larger external system to a different level or equilibrium. A place where harmony exists and all stakeholders are content. It is clear from the mess formulation above that there are significant challenges facing this system. The external environment is causing stress to the system and changes are needed.

It is crucial that we work to analyse the future and the way forward. Natural influences seem to be moving in a negative direction and if left unchecked, may spiral into a very challenging place, which it will be difficult to return from.

It is not unreasonable for very satisfied workers, within a very productive and working system should be allowed to go about their business, without the threat of violence or intimidation. There are most certainly some major changes that need to take place to entrench this right and protect the innocent from criminal; elements. It is crucial to analyse the way forward and how this will impact all stakeholders within the context of the change reality, which exists.

Looking forward

The future of this system and its continued successful operation, within an environment, which is putting pressure on the very fundamental values for which it stands, is under threat, unless drastic changes can be made to the external environment. These changes are going to have to be encouraged and supported at various levels, starting with the families of my team, their immediate sphere of influence, the unions, government and the community at large.

There are many challenges facing the company from its external environment and as this system is an integral part of the whole. It is impossible to operate in the same context going forward. There needs to be a philosophical and conscious behavioural shift on the part of all stakeholders to resolve this. We cannot throw our hands in the air and just give up. Individuals and teams like the one I so proudly work with can and will make a difference going forward.

It is time to start asking a better quality of question to start looking for solutions to this very complex and challenging scenario. We need to look for innovative and creative ways, to use our working model or system, which is in a great state of equilibrium and slowly expand this into our environment.

Looking beyond this system, to the greater picture of sustainable stability, within the borders of South Africa, we need to encourage our society to embrace the very democratic freedoms for which so many people died to get entrenched into our society, as a way forward. We need to look at all levels within our society, starting with our children. We need to show them that violence is not the way to solve things. We need to show them that corruption at any level in society is unacceptable. We need to show them that breaking laws, even small laws like speeding, driving through red traffic lights or lying on your tax return is unacceptable.

This general belief in the rule of law and belief in democracy needs to permeate through all levels of society and must be led by an example from every citizen. They must exemplify the very standards and norms we want to be reflected in our society as a whole. Every citizen needs to want real freedom and should only ever treat others the way they would want others to treat them in return.

The way forward needs to start from a place where things are working and looking outward we need to discover ways of gradually expanding our sphere of influence to help our environment to embrace our values and principals.

Casual Loop Diagram

Systems thinking has provided us with tools, which can help us to explore these very challenging circumstances and try to come up with a workable solution, which will satisfy all stakeholders. These methods have been improved over the years and now offer us a wonderful set of tools to help discover a workable solution, which will help apply the right energy to move this system to a better equilibrium. We cannot look at this isolated incident and use this as the yardstick for solving this complicated situation. The only way to tackle this, is from a complete systems perspective, where we look at the system and all the factors, internal and external and how these affect the system and its functioning.

The Causal Loop Diagram as shown below, provides us with a really valuable tool to help us order our thoughts and explore the system and its environment in a systematic way. This gives us the opportunity to look at all factors and how each one interrelates to the other.

How we did it

  • Explored and defined the problem and its boundaries
  • Discover the most evident and important flaws
  • Understand how information, affects the flows between each area within the system
  • Discover the important and important feedback loops
  • Simulate the model and analyse and interpret the results

Adapted (from John. D. Sterman,2000)

Causal Loop Diagram for Accord Engineering – Based on Violent Industrial Action
















Key Observations

I used the information I gleaned from the mess analysis, as discussed earlier to compile this causal loop. The information I extracted and interpreted was used to compile the diagram you see above. The resultant inter-relationship, inter-dependence and connectedness between all the different components, within the system and the effects the external and internal factors have on the system, were examined. The looping relationship between all the factors was used to try to examine this very complex system and try to uncover a solution, in the best interests of all stakeholders.

There are a number of key observations that have emerged from this endeavour and have been highlighted in my explanation which follows. This is a very complex issue, requiring input and support in many levels, beyond the scope of this study, but in the interests of offering a complete picture, I will touch on as many of these issues as is possible in the ambit of this paper.

Observations and Possible Solutions

  • All team members to be encouraged and supported to initialise a process where they can begin to educate and encourage their family and immediate community to understand their level of satisfaction and that they have no need to engage in Industrial action.
  • All team members to be given training on how to begin the process of showing their family and immediate community the values they hold, regarding work ethics, labour relations, compliance with legislative requirements and their general willingness to be law abiding citizens
  • Leadership team to engage union representatives and bring them into our operation and show them the workings of this very successful system
  • Offer to support union to introduce similar solutions at other companies.
  • Engage with other organisations at chambers, associations and other networking events and encourage them to develop similar workable systems like the one we have into their operations.
  • Local government to be approached and representatives encouraged to visit our facilities and get a first-hand view of what we are doing.
  • Develop better connection and rapport with local police representatives.
  • Encourage leadership team to get involved with the local police at various levels, from becoming reservists to fund raising and any other support possible.
  • Feedback to be encouraged from all team members and all support necessary given to help them feel comfortable and safe once again.
  • National government to be approached and support offered to help the process of support for peaceful industrial action
  • Government to be supported where possible to engage labour issues before they become out of hand.
  • Direct drives to uplift and empower the community to be arranged, with the support of all team members.
  • Engage the community and help them to see that the entire system is not broken. We need to show them that the very violence they engage in during industrial action is wrong and that everyone loses.
  • We will try to develop programs at schools to encourage good values and a belief in the rule of law.

The Causal loop diagram has highlighted the need for our active involvement in our outside environment. Things are never going to change; if we just leave natural forces go unchecked. We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and pointing to all our external influencers, looking for someone or something to blame. It is time we actively involve as many stakeholders as possible, to try to reach an equitable solution, to this really complex and frightening challenge, we are facing as an organisation. Unless we do something the very fabric of our society will be torn apart. We have such an amazing country, which is filled with incredible people. We cannot allow things to get any worse.

There are immense challenges facing our organisation and our beautiful country as a whole. This is a national crisis and as the current mining and transport sector strike action is showing, things can easily spiral out of control if something is not done about it very soon.

We as the people of South Africa need to come up with some very creative and innovative solutions to address this very serious culture of violence and general lawlessness which pervades in our beautiful land. I have tried to come up with a number of solutions and am certainly going to try to introduce them with to my team. If everyone at every level within our society could try to do their bit, we can win this war.

The effects of the violent industrial action are felt everywhere. Our currency has been under huge pressure recently, which is bringing very unwelcome imported inflation into our country. The sentiment from abroad is very nervous and a number of international investors have been frightened away from investing in South Africa. Our own people are feeling nervous and local sentiment and confidence is at an all-time low. These circumstances cannot be allowed to continue, we all have a collective responsibility to heal our country and make it all better.

The “Fractal Like” Organisation

We intend to continue to foster great working relationships with all our team members, building and improving on a system, which is working very well. All internal stakeholders are very satisfied with the organisation and all related issues. We will not become complacent in this regard and will actively try to encourage consistent improvement at all levels with the organisation.

The culture within the organisation is working very well. Leadership will be encouraged to keep improving communication and support of all team members. We will support everyone to become a messenger of our working and very successful system. Our goal is to try to develop every team member into an ambassador, who will start the process of getting people in our external environment to see and begin to copy our great working system.

We know that this is going to take time and will most certainly happen in a day. This will be something we will encourage everyone to participate in daily. Our objective has got to be to encourage as many people and businesses to buy into our culture and to develop a similar system themselves. This must be an inclusive process where all internal stakeholders are consistently developed, supported and encouraged to spread our message.

We will encourage a culture of consistent communication and collaboration between all internal and external stakeholders. Our goals must be quantified, with a real commitment to making a difference to our external environment. These goals will be regularly measured and if we are not achieving the desired outcomes, we will need to revisit our strategic plan to see why. Corrective action is crucial to ensure that we achieve the results we want. Whatever gets measured gets done.

We will continue with helping all team members to communicate the values of openness’, honesty, support, lawfulness and a great work ethic to all external influencers. We will continue to pursue creative solutions for this really serious challenge. We will ensure that every team member is empowered to share their message with their communities. Our culture of mutual appreciation, aligned with our ethos of integrity, loyalty and hard work will be communicated wherever possible to anyone who will listen.

Board Memorandum

We are faced with a huge challenge regarding the current state of our industrial action practices. It is not within the power of this board to make the sweeping changes needed within government, the police, unions, individual strikers and society as a whole, to remove the scourge of intimidation and violence from any future industrial action, which will inevitably occur in the foreseeable future. Despite this board’s inability to act in any direct way to make the crucial changes needed, it would be very naive to think that we are powerless to do anything at all.

We have a responsibility to all stakeholders, their families and the country as a whole to try to gradually make the few small changes we can affect in the short, medium and long term.

Recommendations to the Board:

  • Measurable goals must be put in place regarding our commitment to improve this situation.
  • All stakeholders must be involved in formulating these goals, so that everyone buys into the process
  • These goals must be published throughout the factory and everyone must be encouraged to support this initiative
  • Regular feedback sessions must be encouraged to measure progress and keep the momentum going on this project
  • All initiatives as described earlier must be supported and resources allocated where necessary to ensure they work.
  • Monthly training and feedback sessions must be held to support all stakeholders


Although there are many wonderful parts to our country that are working really well. We have one of the most sophisticated banking systems in the world, our roads have just been upgraded, the Gautrain is world class, and we have managed to host many very successful world class sporting events and many other wonderful successes. Our fledgling democracy still has many challenges, the most serious of which is a culture of lawlessness amongst all citizens, in which flouting laws is commonplace. Unfortunately violence and intimidation are very effective tools employed by many different groups in our country. The more violent and disruptive any industrial action is, the better the resultant outcome for the perpetrators of the violence.

Until we can find a workable solution to these fundamental flaws in our democracy, we will continue to damage our credibility internationally, labour relations will continue to worsen and violence and lawlessness will continue to spiral out of control. There are numerous challenges facing our country and the organisations operating within the borders of South Africa. I believe that if we all make a conscious effort to begin making things better, we can and will win this battle. We have so much going for us in this beautiful country, we cannot allow elements, who see violence and intimidation as tools to achieve their own selfish ends to destroy things for us.


Ackoff RL, 1970 Redesigning the Future. A Systems Approach to Societal Problems. New York, Wiley.
Checkland P,1981 Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. New York, Wiley
Daellenbach H G, 1994 Systems and Decision Making. A Management Science Approach. Chichester, Wiley.
Pourdehnad J, cited in Gharajedaghi J, 1999 Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity. A platform for designing business architecture.Woburn Mass, Butterworth-Heinemann
Pratt J, Gordon P, Plamping D, 1999 Working Whole Systems. Putting theory into practice in organisations. London Kings Fund Senge P, 1990 The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organisation.London, Century Business


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.