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Organizational Systems. Kate Davies, M.A., D.Phil. What We’ll Cover. An introduction to thinking about organizations as systems Mapping systems in organizations How to facilitate organizational change. Why is it is important to understand organizations?.

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Organizational systems

Organizational Systems

Kate Davies, M.A., D.Phil

What we ll cover
What We’ll Cover

  • An introduction to thinking about organizations as systems

  • Mapping systems in organizations

  • How to facilitate organizational change

Why is it important to understand organizations
Why Is It Important to Understand Organizations?

  • We are all part of many organizations

  • Helps us to make sense of how they think and act

  • Provides us with choices about how to act in organizations

  • Provides us with options about how to design and change organizations

Small group discussions
Small Group Discussions

  • What does systems thinking mean to you?

  • What are some examples of systems that you participate in?

  • How would you define a system?

Systems thinking
Systems Thinking

  • A way of understanding reality that emphasizes the relationships among a system's parts, rather than the parts themselves

  • Emphasizes connections, patterns and trends across the system

  • Explores functional differentiation within the system

  • Looks for emergence

  • Identifies internal feedback loops that regulate system behavior

Organizational systems

Family as a System

What is a system
What is a System?

  • A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, and interdependent components that form a complex and unified whole

  • It has a purpose

  • It has a boundary defined by the observer(s)

  • It receives input from the external environment and sends output to it

  • It consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs

  • Systems can be nested (hierarchical) or overlapping

Scientific ways of thinking
Scientific Ways of Thinking

  • Reductionism and analysis

  • Simple causality

  • Mechanistic thinking

  • Quantification

Assumptions of scientific management theory
Assumptions of Scientific Management Theory

Organizations are like machines:

  • They are inanimate things

  • They can be designed and operated to do exactly what we want

  • They are predictable and perform consistently without variations

  • They always think and act logically

Assumptions of scientific management theory1
Assumptions of Scientific Management Theory

  • Managers are smarter than workers

  • Information is a thing that can be controlled

  • The organizational chart shows all the important relationships

Scientific management theory in practice
Scientific Management Theory In Practice

  • The work is broken down into separate parts that do not interact and are managed separately

  • Managers tell employees what to do

  • Planning, design and evaluation functions are separate from execution

  • Managers set rules and procedures to control behavior and ensure consistent results

It s in our language and culture
It’s In Our Language and Culture

“Everything is humming along”

“It’s a well oiled machine”

“Re-engineering organizations”

“We’re firing on all cylinders”

“We had a break down”

“I’m just a cog in the wheel”

“I’m on auto pilot”

Small group discussions1
Small Group Discussions

How does scientific management theory show up in your organization? What are its strengths and its limitations?


Works well when:

  • Straightforward task to perform

  • Consistent products & services

  • The external environment is unchanging

  • Precision is important

  • Human "machine" parts (the workers) are compliant


  • Tends to be rigid and inhibit innovation and creativity, especially among workers

  • Alienates workers, leading to apathy, disinterest, and carelessness

  • Difficult to adapt to changing circumstances because they are designed to achieve predetermined goals

  • Organizational change is resisted by workers

Organizations as systems
Organizations as Systems

  • Relationships and connections between the parts are important

  • Each part of the organization can affect the way other parts work

  • The way all parts work together will determine how well the organization functions

Organizations as systems1
Organizations as Systems

  • The way an organization works will determine its effectiveness, rather than its structure

  • Ideas and knowledge can come from anywhere in the system

  • Information is a property of the system, rather than of the managers

  • Plan for emergence – the unexpected


  • Work is planned, executed, and evaluated collaboratively

  • People are linked across conventional boundaries, e.g., departments, disciplines

  • Solutions emerge from the group, rather than from individuals

  • Teams are created, adjusted or disbanded as needed

  • Fewer rules imposed because employees are trusted

Small group discussions2
Small Group Discussions

How does a systems view show up in your organization? What are its strengths? What are its limitations?


  • Improves organizational flexibility and resilience

  • Fosters innovation and creativity

  • Empowers workers

  • Improves communications

  • Enhances organizational learning and change


  • Responsibilities are ill-defined

  • Unclear lines of authority and decision making

  • Managers can feel threatened

  • Change can be very slow


  • What have you learned in this session?

  • What surprised or interested you?

  • Your comments and reflections

  • Any unanswered questions?