Whole System Change: what it looks like in practice

Whole System Change is a holistic approach for tackling complex change. It enables whole ecosystems to take collective responsibility for collective problems, with collective purpose. Over time it builds the collective agility needed to stay resilient in an age of disruption. It is built on the recognition that the best way to solve a problem is to ensure the whole ecosystem is represented in devising the solution to the problem. This not only improves solution quality and builds a cohesive change community but also minimises the risk of resistance or misunderstandings happening further down the road. Furthermore it enables continuous adaptation of the program at the level of the whole, as change efforts encounter unforeseen disruption and roadblocks.

Over the last ten years, we have pioneered Whole System Change as an approach to mobilise transformational communities around critical shared challenges. It can be applied across a number of different scenarios: from convening teams across business units, geographies and functions; building cross-team collaboration and innovation; or as part of transformation programmes. It can be implemented as a series of sprints around a shared set of challenges, or established as a yearly business event, sitting alongside traditional goal-setting and review processes.

While each engagement is unique, our projects invariably consist of three broad phases, as shown below:

  1. PREPARE: in phase 1 we work with the leadership team to build their capacity for collective intelligence and develop the overall programme design. We work with them to frame the adaptive challenge, select a representative sample of people to be participants, as well as to identify KPIs and measurement solutions. In the background we are also working with the right stakeholders to develop the agenda, content and materials for the first “whole ecosystem event”.
  1. LAUNCH: In phase 2 we enrol the other stakeholders across the business who will form part of the project, first developing their capacity for collective intelligence via an immersive development day. Then the leadership team convenes the first “whole ecosystem event”, in order to develop a common understanding of the adaptive challenge, scope the key transformational initiatives and allocate sub-teams to each initiative.
  1. SENSE, LEARN & ADAPT: In phase 3 we repeat this process of whole ecosystem events at periodic intervals (eg every 6 months), followed by implementation in small teams – with a programme steering team overseeing implementation between whole ecosystem events. This approach enabling the continuous adaptation and refinement of the transformation plan and key initiatives and develops the collective agility of the community as a whole.

At Living Systems, we have spent the last 10 years helping our clients to mobilise and transform whole ecosystems. If you need to lead business transformation, get in touch with us today to find out how we can help.