Theoretical Background

What does Whole Systems Consulting Mean?


Whole Systems Consulting is a framework which attempts to take an “ecological” approach to understanding whether and how any human-designed and managed organization is moving toward achievement of its goals or not. It takes for granted the hypothesis that no system exists, or can be successful, without being able to “see” itself as embedded in the several, even myriad, zones of influence around it. This is the reason AKRI has developed a Whole Systems Consulting Training Program: to prepare those who are working to support the success of their client organizations through consultative activities.


In his General Theory of Bureaucracy (1976), Elliot Jaques, an early participant in the Tavistock Institute’s activities, described zones of influence on individual humans’ organizational experiences and actions as follows:


- Subjective (the relation of a person to her/himself)

- Intersubjective (the relation between one person and another)

- Institutional (organizational rewards and sanctions)

- Legal (larger systems rewards and sanctions)

- Cultural (learned approaches to being acceptable socially in a given context)


Since that time, it’s become clear that there are many additional layers of influence on individual experience and behavior in systems, e.g., group identification, global, political, economic, and even electronic zones.  We could continue to elaborate these, but the central point is that to understand and guide any ‘whole’ system, we as consultants have to take in as full a perception of its circumstances as we can. And we owe it to our clients to assist them to develop as full a perception of these forces at work in order to lead and manage their organizations successfully.


Since group relations hypothesizes that like individuals, organizations develop an unconscious stance toward its survival, as consultants we need to help clients discover that element of influence, as well as all of the other zones that are having an impact on their organizational systems. 


Our idea is that to the extent we can prepare consultants to assist their clients to take in the broadest potential understanding of the zones of influence surrounding, and within, their organizations, to that degree we will have improved their capacities to lead in the rapidly shifting environments around them.   We don’t so much consider ourselves as preparing consultants to “facilitate change” as we do preparing them to adapt and navigate in postmodern circumstances surrounding all human systems.

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