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Foundations in System Leadership: Collaborating for Health and Care

Build the core skills and behaviours to implement systems leadership and use systems thinking to improve health and care.

5,832 enrolled on this course

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Foundations in System Leadership: Collaborating for Health and Care

5,832 enrolled on this course

  • 5 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Introductory level

Find out more about how to join this course

Learn how systems thinking can help you lead effectively

There’s a growing realisation that many global problems are interconnected. For the health and care landscape, there’s a need to reduce the focus on episodic treatment for acute illness and notice the wider determinants of health, delivering more joined-up support for all.

On this five-week course from the NHS Leadership Academy, you’ll explore systems leadership, learn why it’s important in health and care, and develop new capabilities to implement it. You will also recognise where you may already be operating as a systems leader while developing new approaches.

Explore the foundations of a systems approach

Systems thinking is one way of understanding the world of work. Thinking about organisations as living systems means we can observe how to lead effectively based on how systems behave.

You’ll delve into different types of complex systems and look at their characteristics; building a view of how systems work and what aspects you can take away for your own thinking and leadership.

Discover a systems perspective on health and care

On this course, you’ll explore the current health and care context from both a theoretical and practical point of view to reflect on what systems leadership has to offer.

You’ll consider health inequalities and focus on integration and prevention as methods of improving population health and well-being. You’ll also look at other leadership styles to see how they enable and disable systems working.

Develop the skills to make systems leadership a reality

Having clarified what systems leadership is and why it’s important, you’ll analyse the capabilities that are key to leading effectively. Using case studies to illustrate best practice, you’ll build your core skills to help you explore, reflect, relate, and connect through systems leadership.


  • Week 1


    • Welcome

      Welcome to the course! Find out how to make the most of this learning oportunity with journaling, experiments, your peers, and an 'accountability partner'.

    • Focus on you

      Explore where you are starting from, where you are going, and what that journey may be like...

    • What is a system?

      How do we begin to define ‘a system’?

  • Week 2

    What is a system?

    • Systems thinking, Systems leadership

      Systems thinking is one way of understanding the world of work and organisation. A lens if you like. This activity explores that lens.

    • Exploring the characteristics of complex systems ...continued

      In week 1, we began to explore our definition of 'system'. This week we continue to examine other characteristics of systems, and different types of system, which might help us understand other ways to lead.

    • Why systems thinking isn’t the answer

      Systems thinking is one way of understanding organisations and how people behave in them. It isn’t the only way, nor necessarily even the best way...

  • Week 3

    Why does it matter?

    • A systems approach to global issues

      Why does systems thinking and systems leadership matter? Let's begin with a global perspective.

    • A systems perspective on health and care

      The health and care system we’ve created faces many inter-connected wicked problems. Let's consider the issues.

    • A new health and care paradigm

      There’s a growing consensus that we don’t just need incremental change – we need to think differently.

    • The future health and care landscape

      In this activity, we’ll discuss the legislative framework and some related structures, including integrated care systems, place-based partnerships and provider collaboratives.

  • Week 4

    How do we do it? (Part 1)

    • Making systems leadership a reality

      We’re moving on now from the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ to the ‘how’. Our focus is moving to systems leadership in practice. What does it take to do this well? What are you already doing that you can build on?

    • Operating reflexively

      Reflexivity is '...being able to examine their own feelings, reactions and motives and how those influence what they do or think in a situation'

    • Using story telling

      System Leadership, by its very nature, exists in environments that are complex. Communication is key. How can story telling help us communicate in complexity?

    • Approaching strategy


    • Setting the cultural condition


    • In summary


  • Week 5

    How do we do it? (Part 2) & offboarding

    • Networking across boundaries


    • Engaging diverse perspectives


    • Strategic influencing


    • Offboarding


    • Analysing the impact


    • Sustaining the learning


When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Practice critical reflexivity in relation to their own circumstances and position in multiple systems
  • Demonstrate an understanding of what a system is and what 'systems thinking' means
  • Develop a systems leadership approach and understand when it can be used
  • Investigate how systems leadership could help tackle some of the challenges in delivering health and care
  • Develop clarity on how to collaborate across your system to develop a preventative approach to improving the health and care of people in diverse localities
  • Explore what is going on in the wider environment that makes systems leadership a useful approach for delivering modern healthcare
  • Develop a practical understanding of who you are as a leader and how some of your personal styles and behaviours will help or hinder you in working across systems
  • Increase your own capability for leading effectively across systems by deepening your understanding and developing a range of practical skills and techniques

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone working in care and health with a desire to improve the way they collaborate across sectoral, organisational, hierarchical, and professional boundaries. Primarily aimed at those working in health and care, it will be ideal for you if:

  • You’re already working across systems either formally or informally and you’d like to increase your impact
  • You’re intellectually convinced that systems leadership is the way forward and you want to increase your ability to actually do it
  • You’ve heard the terms ‘systems leadership’ or ‘systems thinking’ and you want to understand more about what they mean and how you can use them in your context
  • You’re not familiar with the concept of systems leadership but you’re passionate about improving health and wellbeing outcomes for your local population and you’re curious about any new approaches that will help you
  • You’re increasingly frustrated with how fragmentation, duplication and reactive service

Who will you learn with?

My current role as Head of Leadership Programmes at the NHS Leadership Academy is responsible for delivering a wide variety of leadership programmes and support for the 1.5m staff that make up the NHS

Simon works with leaders across sectors on an organisational, team and individual level. He is interested in making hard things simpler, and helping people turn theory into reality.

Liz is an energetic and skilled leadership & organisational development practitioner. She is passionate about development as a means of empowering teams and individuals to improve patient care.

Judy delivers system leadership programmes and has a strong track record in helping leaders work collaboratively across boundaries. She is currently facilitating several ICS development interventions.

Who developed the course?

NHS Leadership Academy

Our purpose is to help people discover and fulfil their leadership potential to deliver outstanding health and care.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$134/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 18 Jul 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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