Growing Adaptive Organizations

Step B2: Look for Dysfunctions


Find frequently occurring dysfunctions.


Locating frequently occurring dysfunctions is collecting low-hanging fruit. It shows particularly impressively the strength of the view of decisions and information flow, i.e. the power of the VSM.

After reviewing archetypes of dysfunctional organizations, try the supplied patterns, but caution: patterns only ever show examples of reality.


B2.1 Skim through the archetypes

Review the archetypes of dysfunctions. Does one of the archetypes particularly catch your eye?

Note the observations in the canvas.

B2.2 Use the structural issues list

Use the common structural issues list to locate further dysfunctions and opportunities for improvement.

Common structural Issues

Lack of System 1 Autonomy

  • Problem: System 1 (Operational Units) lacks autonomy and is overly controlled by higher-level systems.
  • Consequence: System 1 cannot respond effectively to local challenges and opportunities.

Weak System 2 Coordination

  • Problem: Inadequate coordination between System 2 (Coordination) and System 1 (Operational Units).
  • Consequence: Information and resources are not efficiently distributed or aligned with organizational goals.

Centralized Control (System 3)

  • Problem: An overly centralized System 3 (Control) that makes all decisions without input from lower-level systems.
  • Consequence: Delayed decision-making, lack of adaptability, and limited capacity to address local issues.

Underdeveloped System 4 (Intelligence)

  • Problem: Inadequate System 4 (Intelligence) functions for monitoring and interpreting the environment.
  • Consequence: The organization lacks awareness of external changes and emerging trends.

Ineffective System 5 (Policy)

  • Problem: System 5 (Policy) does not provide clear direction or long-term goals.
  • Consequence: Lack of strategic alignment and purpose within the organization.

Inflexible Structural Boundaries

  • Problem: Rigid structural boundaries that do not allow for the creation of ad-hoc teams or units.
  • Consequence: Difficulty in responding to unexpected challenges or opportunities.

Lack of Hierarchical Clarity

  • Problem: Ambiguity in the hierarchical structure, roles, and responsibilities.
  • Consequence: Confusion, inefficiencies, and difficulties in decision-making.

Communication Barriers

  • Problem: Communication channels are not well-defined or are hindered by hierarchical structures.
  • Consequence: Information flow is restricted, leading to misunderstandings and delayed responses.

Fragmented Information Systems

  • Problem: Inadequate information systems that do not support data sharing and real-time information access.
  • Consequence: Difficulty in gathering and disseminating critical information.

Misaligned Subsystems

  • Problem: Subsystems within the VSM are not properly aligned with organizational goals or strategies.
  • Consequence: Lack of coherence and synergy among different parts of the organization.


At the end of this process, you should have

  • Identified the major parts of your System-in-Focus which render it viable.
  • Considered the parts that seem to be inadequate.
  • Identified any parts that don’t map onto the VSM and therefore don’t have anything to do with viability.

This concludes the Orient phase of our analysis.

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