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It is here! Part 3: Using VSM to diagnose viability


In Part 1 we explained what a system is and discussed a couple of key concepts of VSM. We looked more closely at the VSM model in Part 2. In Part 3 we briefly look at organisational pathologies and provide a broad outline how to use VSM to assess the viability of a system (the organisation or part thereof).


Organisational Pathologies

We already explained the parts of the VSM model as well as the communication channels. If any of the systems and/or communication channels are lacking or not complete it results in different organisational pathologies that could result in the organisation disappearing or losing its independence. These pathologies are divided in to three main categories namely:



1. Structural

Structural pathologies are related to complexity that an organisation face that are inadequately dealt with e.g., lack of recursion levels (first level and/or middle level) which result in the total environmental variety or part thereof not attended to.


2. Functional

Functional pathologies include pathologies related to each part of the organisation that makes up the organisation. In each part assess if all the key functions (systems) that are needed for the organisation’s viability exist and if they are working adequately. Examples are where System 5 collapses into System 3 and it intervenes unwantedly in what System 3 is supposed to do, operational units (System 1) working separately without being adequately integrated by System 3, excessive growth and activity of individual parts of the organisation that puts the viability of the whole organisation at risk etc.


3. Information and Communication channels

Communication channels are a critical element of the VSM. They function as the main elements that connect all functions/systems in the organisation and the people in it, as well as the organisation with the different parts of its environment. Each of these communication channels must have all the components that makes the transmission and receiving of information possible. Example of information and communication pathologies are missing channels or they are not working properly, channels are fragmented with little or no connection, channels are not designed properly to connect different functions in the organisation etc.


Assessing the viability in a system (organisation /part of the organisation)

Based on the key concepts and elements of VSM that we described in Part 1 and 2, we provide a basic outline of questions on how one could go about assessing the viability of a system in focus.

Define the system

Unpack the organisation by mapping recursions

Define the system in focus

What is the purpose of the system in focus?

What is the aim and objectives of the system in focus?

What are all the parts of the system in focus?

What functions are performed in the system in focus?

System 1

System 2

System 3

System 4

System 5

Assess Autonomy

Assess balance in the internal environment

Assess balance in the external environment

Assess information and communication flow

Assess structural pathologies

Assess functional pathologies

Assess informational pathologies

Assessing the viability of the organisation, or part thereof, using the VSM model enables practitioners to identify pathologies. This provides valuable insights for practitioners to consider in the practice of Organisational Design to design organisations that has the capacity to survive regardless of changes in the environment. Practitioners must design for viability, in that the organisation must have the capacity and capability to self regulate, learn continuously and adapt and evolve.


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