How many times have we heard this? Given that our daily routines are systems we often overlook how important they are to daily lives often only noticing them when they don’t work or cause us frustration.  Another way to think of systems is as ‘replicable sets of events to deliver consistent outcomes. Organisations rely on hundreds, if not thousands of conscious or unconscious systems every day to affect their outcomes. An organisation’s strategic and operational intentions would not be possible without them.

Systems are often developed and maintained in accordance with organisation’s intentions through policies linked to business strategies and plans. For example, systems relating to customer interactions may be guided by policies to maximise profit, increase customer satisfaction, or drive customer acquisition. 

These strategies and policies may seek to balance these outcomes or preference some of them over the others. 

If these intentions are not informed by coherent values, beliefs and policies relating to ethical outcomes we may see ‘approved’ systems driving short to medium term profit outcomes rather than longer term outcomes relating to customer loyalty and retention, let alone recognising a duty of care to them and the broader community.  Similarly, if these intentions are informed by policies and systems relating only to customer satisfaction and retention, the organisation may find it can no longer profitably sustain itself.

In short it is important to maintain a balanced and coherent approach to systems development and the policies guiding their existence.

The recent Royal Commission into the Finance Industry provides a great example of the need for such balance with the banks’ desire to derive short term profit outcomes overriding the longer-term interests of customers and the communities they serve.  

So how do we maintain a balanced and coherent approach to systems development, the policies guiding them and desired organisation outcomes?

Ken Wilber’s Integral Framework enables organisations to take a broader perspective on the impact organisation systems have on the delivery of outcomes. The Framework demonstrates how systems interact with an organisation’s values, culture and behaviour to deliver its strategic and operational intentions. 

 The lower right quadrant ‘Systems Mastery’


This is the quadrant many organisations rely upon to deliver outcomes investing significant resources developing and redeveloping ‘Systems of Delivery’. This unconscious quadrant bias drives thinking (perspective) that a redesigned or new System of Delivery will solve any and all organisation problems.

How often when a problem occurs do we blame the system and replace it with another only to find we still have the problem we were seeking to resolve in the first place, or we’ve now created a new problem that we now need to fix with another system solution?

What do we mean by ‘Systems of Delivery’?

Systems pervade all organisations and industries all of the time. Examples below all require ‘Systems of Delivery’ to efficiently produce outcomes: 

  • Finance – debit/credit, ledger management, profit/loss reporting, asset management, etc

  • IT – software development, programming, hardware maintenance etc

  • Engineering – maintenance, asset optimisation, construction, design etc

  • Market – strategy, segmentation etc

  • People – sourcing, remuneration, succession planning, performance management, bonus and reward, etc

  • Sales - selling, complaints, marketing etc

  • Health Care – patient management, theatre management, surgical procedures, nurse training, etc

In developing and maintaining the health of our systems four questions should resonate – 

  • What outcome are we seeking from this system?

  • Does this system do what it was designed to do?

  •  If it doesn’t, how do we improve or replace it so that it does?

  • How often do we audit our systems to check they are still fit for purpose?

Conducting Systems Audits

Systems audits enable us to see the health of our systems by determining whether they are: 

  •  ‘approved’ (officially approved by organisation).

  • ‘fit for purpose’ (delivers consistently what it is meant to). 

This enables us to classify systems into four categories: 

  1. Effective Systemsare ‘approved’ and ‘fit for purpose’. Effective Systems should be monitored to ensure they continue working effectively. 

  2. Poor Systemsmay be ‘approved’ but are not ‘fit for purpose’. Poor Systems need to be modified or replaced by those meeting both criteria.

  3. ‘Work Around’systems are not ‘approved’ but may be ‘fit for purpose’ or not ‘fit for purpose’. These Systems fall into two areas. Those not ‘approved’ but ‘fit for purpose’ - it may make sense to formalise these; or not ‘fit for purpose’ meaning they should be extinguished – in some contexts they may be dangerous.

  4. Bad Systemsare neither ‘approved’ nor ‘fit for purpose’ and are potentially dangerous. These need to be extinguished immediately. Poor Systems and ‘Work Around’ Systems may drift into this category.

Given the impact systems have upon all facets of our organisations and their stakeholders it seems obvious that we should aspire to think of them as being ‘Effective’. Importantly to achieve this outcome our systems need to be developed with Organisation Purpose, Policies, Values and/or Principles in mind to enable line of sight linking expectations to means and end.

In Part 2 we will address the Systems Mastery Quadrant again focusing on Collaborative Systems Leadership tools that optimise systems through collaboration and discretionary effort.