Practicing systems thinking

A Two-Day Seminar

Learning Objectives

  • Gain a practical understanding of systems thinking principles, approaches and tools in order to integrate and use them in individual and team work.
  • Understand the complementary strengths of systems thinking and Continuous Quality Improvement.


  • Understanding of how systems thinking helps surface and challenge existing mental models and habitual ways of thinking.
  • Practice in applying causal loop diagrams to current issues and cases.
  • Understanding of the range of systems thinking applications.


  • Intact team or group of executives and middle managers.
  • Mixed group interested in exploring their growing sense of interdependency (e.g. administrators, nurses and physicians in healthcare).


Day One

  • Review of the objectives and agenda, introductions and expectations.
  • Introduction to systems thinking as the fifth discipline of learning organizations; characteristics of systems and implications for systems thinking; moving from and event to a structural view or reality.
  • Mental models as structures: exercises to identify individual and collective mental models.
  • Introduction to the basic building blocks of systems dynamics language: links and loops; examples of reinforcing loops and balancing loops. Introduction to a few basic archetypes (with appropriate examples) and practice on participants’ own cases in small groups: fixes that fail, accidental adversaries, shifting the burden and eroding goals.
  • Small group presentation of cases to the large group and dialogue on insights and questions.

Day Two

  • Introduction to other archetypes (with appropriate examples) and practice on participants’ own cases (in small groups): limits to success, tragedy of the commons, escalation, success to the successful.
  • Small group work: application of causal loop diagrams on a selected issue.
  • Small group presentation of cases to the large group.
  • Dialogue on opportunities and limits of applying causal lop diagrams to address complex issues; further steps in systems thinking.
  • Illustration of the complementary strengths of systems thinking and CQI.
  • Evaluation of the session and identification of possible next steps for the group.


  • Brief presentations of concepts and tools followed by individual reflection periods and interactive application in small groups and large group.
  • Optimal number of participants: from 12 to 24. Suggested maximum size: 30.
  • Preparation steps: advance reading on systems thinking and mental models; individual reflection on current issues that are problematic, long standing and resistant to change interventions.

About Alain

Alain Gauthier’s current focus as an author, consultant, facilitator, educator, and coach is on evolutionary co-leadership development and collective learning as prerequisites for cultivating deep and lasting change in and across organizations. A graduate from H.E.C. (Paris) and an M.B.A. from Stanford University, he has served over the past 45 years a large variety of client organizations in Europe, Japan and North America. He first worked as a senior associate of McKinsey & Company in Europe, then as a partner of a Paris-based consulting firm, and is currently Executive Director of Core Leadership Development and Founder of the Global Transforming Ensemble, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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