Human Systems – a guide

Emotions not making sense in your context? A systemic issue could be at play!

A human system is like a mobile – if one element doesn’t carry its weight (i.e. it’s heavier or lighter than it should be), the whole system is out of balance. To find a good definition of a system, and to understand where we’re coming from, I did some research on systems and systems theory.

It turns out we are powerfully influenced by our surroundings, by the immediate context and by the personalities of those around us.

So, what is a system?

Wikipedia tells us “A system is a set of entities, real or abstract, comprising a whole where each component interacts with or is related to at least one other component and they all serve a common objective.”:

There are many different types of system, for example:

  • Systems in IT
  • Systems in engineering
  • Systems in a social and cognitive context

Social and cognitive sciences have researched and thought about systems in humans and in human societies for a long time. They’ve included brain functions and mental processes, as well as ethical systems and social/cultural behavioural patterns. Systems theory is a particular view of the world. As an interdisciplinary study of human life and social organisation, systems theory is widely spread. For more information on systems theory check out Wikipedia on

In organisational development, ‘human organisations’ are viewed as systems of interacting components with numerous complex processes and organisational structures. Organisational development theorist Peter Senge developed the concept of the learning organisation in his book The Fifth Discipline. He views an organisation as a dynamic system continuously adapting and improving. Theorists such as Margaret Wheatley have also described the dynamics in organisational systems and have taken metaphors from quantum physics, chaos theory, and the self-organisation of systems.

In the field of family therapy , the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson developed the double bind theory, where individual psychiatric symptoms are thought of as systemic responses to faulty family communications by having received different or contradictory messages.

In systems philosophy, Ervin Laszlo, the founder of the Club of Budapest, looked at systems as models created for the purpose of understanding. For him a field of information is the substance of the cosmos; a fundamental energy and information-carrying field that informs not just the current universe, but all universes past and present. László described how such an informational field can explain why our universe is so improbably fine-tuned as to form galaxies and conscious life forms.

In the context of systemic organisational consulting, a system is a network of constantly changing relationships and interactions between people, processes, information and technology which is closely connected to other networks, such as customers, markets, etc. If there is any change in one element of a system, there is a simultaneous change in all other elements of the system.

Practice has shown that Systemic Constellations can be used to find hidden dynamics in these systems. They are stimulating and offer insight in many areas.

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