Leadership Lens: A Systems Approach to Culture

Cultural transformation has been identified as one of the biggest drivers of growth in organisations. However, cultural growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum and can’t be restricted to the boardroom.

Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organisation is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.

When considering investing in cultural change interventions, I recommend starting with a Systems Approach to Culture.


In mid-2022 I was approached by Matthews Australasia, an Australian leader in intelligent product identification solutions. Facing fast growth and coming out of the ‘COVID Hangover’, Matthew’s Senior Leadership Team had identified a need for changing their culture in order to achieve their vision and goals. At first, my stakeholders addressed this with the idea of conducting leadership workshops with the Senior and Leadership Teams. Instead, I suggested a systems approach.

What is a Systems Approach to Culture?

Systems Approach to Culture Model

Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing whole.

It’s a bit like achieving symphony in an orchestra: The inner passion and mental focus of each musician (internal, individual) combine with their visible performance (external, individual), while the ensemble’s shared sense of purpose and harmony (internal, collective) is expressed through the collective, audible performance (external, collective). This metaphor illustrates how both the seen and unseen, individual and collective efforts are crucial for achieving organisational harmony and effectiveness.

We must first recognise that all systems are always interrelated. Changes in one system can affect other systems. For instance, an organisational restructure (bottom right) will affect how individuals feel (fear or thrill, but generally fear, top left) and how they behave and communicate (top right). If this transformation is poorly handled and fear drives collective behaviour of making mistakes, avoiding taking risks, or backstabbing and playing power games, the organisation’s culture is shaped. Changes on the bottom right affect all quadrants.

In my client’s instance, this meant that they needed to begin by investigating their beliefs and values (top left) that were driving harmful behaviours (top right). We also needed the Senior Leadership Team to have an agreement on what constitutes ‘excellent leadership’ (bottom left). So, we began with a  SWOT and Culture Foundation Workshops in order to refresh their value statements (bottom left and right) and identify which top behaviours the collective agrees to demonstrate (top right) to the culture (bottom left), resulting in a revised charter.

Only after this groundwork with a systems approach was done, we designed and delivered full-day leadership workshops over 12 months to equip team members with the skills and tools to make a real change to the cultural transformation.

A systems approach works in other parts of work and life, but it is essential if your goal is to transform your culture.

Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert