Flowers and plants seedling process flat icons set isolated vector illustration

VSM Preliminary Diagnosis Step 7

Step 7:
Identify the policy making, System Five

PURPOSE: To identify those parts of the System-in-Focus which are concerned with Policy.

7.1 Draw the System Five Square

7.2 Find the Policy Makers

Write the people or departments responsible for policy making


Policy concerns the ground rules which affect everyone in an organization.

In the Viable System, policy is the domain of System 5. It may best be described as “Top Level Ethos”, and its role is to become involved in the complex interactions between Systems 3 and 4. System 5 has two main functions:

Firstly, to supply “logical closure”: The loop between systems 3 and 4 is potentially unstable and must be overseen Metasystemically.

Secondly, to monitor the goings on in the whole organization. These must be constrained by policy.

There is, of course, nothing to stop System 5 wielding its own authority (for example … demanding that System 4 begins to study a particular issue and that System 3 responds to this … and that the eventual outcome is passed to the Operational units to be elaborated into a production plan) but this is a rare occurrence.

System 5 provides the context, the ground rules, the ethos.

Who is the real System 5?

If your mind works like most of us the answer to this question will be something like Henry Ford or Walt Disney or some other hero who dominates the policy of the enterprise. (Any colour as long as it’s black …). Beer has written at length about the way that all elements of the Viable System are mutually dependant, and that giving one any more importance than another is clearly wrong. (How viable would Aristotle have been if any of his major organs had closed down??).

The question of who System 5 actually is has to be answered very simply as everyone involved in the system.

At the governmental level it should be described as “the Will of the People”, within the co-op it’s the same and systems must be designed to ensure that’s how it works. (Again notice that Mondragon seem to have grasped the essence .. they describe their General Assembly as “The Will of the Members”).

On some Co-ops, the system evolved to provide a means of ensuring that policy can involve all members on a continuous basis.

System Five Examples

  • A small Co-op: Weekly meeting of all members
  • A larger Coop (Suma): Weekly meeting of delegates representing the views of all members.
  • Mondragon: Yearly meetings of all members, or of representatives.
  • Typical large Company: Either the owners or shareholders. No employee involvement.
Derived from Jon Walker’s VSM Guide for co-ops and federations