Introducing managers to the VSM using a personal VSM

David T. Robinson (Business Development Unit, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Publication date: 4 January 2013



The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a short research study that introduced a group of busy managers, in an organisation in turmoil, to Stafford Beer's Viable System Model (VSM) through the use of a personal construct, developed by Allenna Leonard.


This study, designed as systemic action research, was a final project towards an Open University Masters in Systems Thinking in Practice. Initially managers were introduced to the personal VSM and invited to design their own VSM as systemic action learning. This was followed by an introductory collaborative inquiry to enable the managers to use their VSM learning to interrogate their organisational domain through the VSM lens.


The managers engaged well with the personal VSM (PVSM). All the managers reported that the PVSM was a useful learning tool and provided beneficial professional development to help clarify activities, priorities and their roles. They reported that the collaborative meeting was a very useful means to help them see others' perspectives and work towards gaining a shared understanding of the issues and challenges within the organisation through the VSM lens.

Practical implications

The VSM is not well understood or routinely used in current management thinking. This method of introducing the VSM to managers has wide implications for providing managers with an introduction to systems thinking and an opportunity to engage openly with a valuable tool that will help their understanding of modern organisational complexity.


Using the personal VSM with managers has not been reported before and this study provides new opportunities to develop a means to introduce complex conceptual systems models to busy managers.



Robinson, D. (2013), "Introducing managers to the VSM using a personal VSM", Kybernetes, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 125-139.

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