By Meike Beckford

I am currently learning about Systems Thinking. A fascinating, and huge(!), topic and approach to thinking about not just specific problem solving, but understanding the whole system and all its interrelated parts. The idea is that rather than assuming a simple ‘A causes B’ process and therefore assuming that if you stop A, you’ll fix B, you look at the web of factors that influence B and how changes in one part of the system affect other areas. It’s great for those tricky problems where you try seemingly logical ‘solutions’ and yet the same problem keeps rearing its head again.

Anyone who works in health and social care, or indeed has ever listened to the news, will probably immediately recognise its relevance to this sector. Managing the complexities of delivering healthcare and how this relates to wider public health concerns, social care, social deprivation and inequality, education, economics, public finances… you get the idea! I’m sure you can equally think of many other areas in your own experience where this sort of thinking could apply.

I won’t go into all the tools and methods just yet (I’m still getting my head around them!), but wanted to share some thoughts from leaders already practicing Systems Thinking in the sector. I found these inspiring and encouraging to see how they are already being used by leaders in different arenas. These are taken from the King’s Fund’s 2015 report on Systems Leadership, but they are applicable in our wider practice as leaders too. Perhaps one or two will speak to you.


Making change

‘It all starts with the case for change. What is wrong with what we are doing at the moment? Who is prepared to stand up and say that… both on the basis of the evidence but with an emotional compulsion as well? (Ruth Carnall)

Build momentum

‘You clearly see system leadership – the ability to attract the willing, work with the willing, and grow that with the team of the willing so that it impacts on the system.

Finding people who want to be more … and who will make this appealing to a wider audience, so people get excited about the superordinate goal – improving health for their populations’ (Victor Adebowale)

Clarity and flexibility

‘If you go in with too fixed a view you can get nowhere … you’ve got to be sure that you can listen to people and flex to their needs… you need constancy of purpose and resilience, and you need to recognise that it takes longer than people want it to take. We are much too keen to say something hasn’t worked when it never stood a chance of working within that timescale.’ (Thirza Sawtel)


You can achieve almost anything if you don’t want to take the credit’

‘Longevity of leaders and leadership in organisations is important. … It is important because you learn as much by failing as by succeeding, and you have to be there long enough to do the learning.’ (Victor Adebowale)

‘Do you want to claim the credit, or do you want others to do that and stick to the values we are talking about, and deliver? You have to have a frame that excites people, and you have to co-create and develop it with them, not tell them it’s yours and will they now take it on? So it is more like helping create a social movement.’ (David Fish)

‘I should be the person in the background that people at the end of the day forget about – because you’ve facilitated the change, but they have actually done the work. You’ve disappeared. But you have left them with the skills to carry on.’

‘You have to persuade people. You have to bring them along and make them think it is their idea – because they have got to own it. They don’t like people telling them what to do.’ (Jan Vaughan)


With thanks,

Meike Beckford – @MeikeB88

Lead Director, Dosh Ltd – for more on Dosh visit and @DoshTweets


My thanks again to Lancaster University Management School, in particular in this piece to Dr Ian Cammack.