Systemic Thinking is a process of understanding and transforming complex situations - these may include water catchments, a client's market, manufacturing and external environment, projects etc. Systems thinking works through enabling all stakeholders to see their role, their responsibilities and the organisation's strategic imperatives as interdependent.
Purpose: A system can only be conceived when there is a clear articulation of an organisational purpose. That is some relationship has to be articulated that allows the issue to be discriminated from the environment. The purpose usually expresses the dimensions of the relationship between the system and its environment.
Boundaries: As soon as a purpose has been expressed the boundaries of the system can be identified. In this process the aspects of the environment that are encompassed in the system are articulated. The process of boundary identification also shows what parts of the environment are marginal to the system. That is just included or just excluded. Boundary judgements are an important characteristic of Systemic Thinking.
Coherence: All the dynamics that exist within a system need to have a coherence (a sense of wholeness) if they are to be a legitimate part of that system. A test for coherence is often conducted to assist boundary judgements.
Emergence: A characteristic of systems is that the whole has characteristics that can not be identified from a study of the systems parts. The characteristics that arise from wholeness are termed emergent characteristics. Searching for emergent characteristics in complex systems is an important area of Systemic Thinking.
Hierarchy: Every issue that is looked at systemically can be understood as having three levels of activity, that is a three level hierarchy—supra-system, system and sub-system. The ability to hold these three levels of hierarchy in your mind at the same time while considering an issue and appreciating the way in which changes at one level affect changes at the other levels is known as systemic thinking.
Sub-systems: These are the parts of the system that have to interact in an interdependent way for the system to achieve a balance and express its purpose on the supra-system. The parts are also the only way a system can learn about its environment, they are the power-house that give life to the system.
Environment: This is a term often given to the supra-system and encompasses all things not included in the system by its purpose. Obviously there will be some aspects of the environment, which have a close relationship with the system while other dimensions will seem to be totally unrelated. However, in Systemic Thinking all aspects have some relationship to the system although it may be very tenuous and the pathway of the relationship almost impossible to discover.
The key idea here is that systems are whole entities with properties that are different from those of the sums of their (interconnected) parts.