Growing Adaptive Organizations

Step A6: System Five, Identify the policy making


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


System 5 is the mechanism that formulates the Identity, the Mission, or the North Star.


A6.1 Note the Identity statement of the System-in-Focus

Write down the identity statement of the System-in-Focus (or confirm that the SiF does not have one).

A6.2 Find the Policy Makers

Write the people or departments responsible for policy making.


Policy concerns the ground rules that affect everyone in an organization. It may best be described as “Top Level Ethos”,  and in a sense, it defines the identity of the system.

In the Viable System, System Five has an active influence on the organization while it normally refrains from handling day-to-day operations. 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 includes conflicting views and priorities and is therefore potentially unstable. It must therefore 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 color 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.

In organizations, it reflects the will of the shareholders.

System Five Examples

A few examples of possible implementations of System 5:

  • A small Co-op: Weekly meeting of all members
  • A Start-Up: the founders

Typical large Company: Either the owners or shareholders. No employee involvement.

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