It’s systems theory time…let’s do it.
So, what is it you may ask?
Systems theory, unlike the other theories we have looked at, did not originate in the study of businesses, however in the biological and engineering fields thanks to Ludwig Von Bertalanffy. At it’s most basic level, a system is an assemblage of parts. You may be thinking, yeah…but how on earth does this broad term apply to businesses? Not to mention it started in the science fields! Well, the system in an organisation are made up of people and departments that all work together rather than cells and organs.
Systems theory is broken down into three phases:
1. What systems are made of- Systems Components
2. How systems work- Systems Processes
3. Characteristics that arise from these components and processes Systems Properties
Starting from number 1:
Systems Components,comprise three aspects: hierarchical ordering, interdependence, and permeability.
Systems components need to be organised and in a definite order for overall success, theorists say. They are arranged in highly complex ways that involve subsystems and supersystems. Whaaaaat??
Lets break it down. Think of a hospital, it involves a number of departmental subsystems, including surgical units, recovery units, pre-surgical units, labs, offices etc. The subsystems are composed of smaller groups and individuals. Right, Supersytem time, think of the hospital as part of the health care industry; hospitals, ambulances, nursing homes and general doctor surgeries. A hospital is part of the health care industry which is a supersytem!
interdependence implies that the functioning of one component of system relies on other components of a system. Organisations are highly interdependent. Taking the hospital for example, the surgical unit could not function without the laboratories for the results, the labs rely on the office departments for the ordering of essential products and the whole hospital in general relies on the office departments for the invoicing and all the other paperwork required for the hospital to keep functioning. Therefore, if one subsystem breaks down, the other cannot function.
Take the girls below: working together to effectively do the job…
Okay, moving on.
It’s all about permeable boundaries. Can information and materials flow in and out, and the degree of permeability varies from system to system. In hospitals for example, yes, I know, hospitals again…but they must be open to their larger environments so patients, information and resources can move in and out, and the subsystems must have a high degree of permeability to facilitate the flow of people through wards, and discharges along with information and materials.
This looks at how the hierarchical, interdependent and permeable components work. Systems, basically, are characterised through input-throughput-output processes. Inputs are materials or information from the environment through its permeable boundaries. The system then works on these inputs through their throughputs, and then finally the system returns the transformed output to the environment.
Take an insurance broker…
An insurance claims adjuster must gather information about relevant damages, make decisions based on insurance coverage, and then output that information to the policyholder (input-throughput-output).
There are two kinds of processes that characterise input-throughput-output operations. Firstly, the process of exchange is apparent in both input and output activities. That is the input of information into the organisation and the output of the transformed information have had some contact with the external environment to the organisation. This is obviously directly related to the permeability of the organisations boundaries.
Feedback, is the second type that is critical to the throughput of the organisational functioning. It is the information that helps facilitate the interdependent functioning of system components. There are two types. Negative feedback helps the correction of deviation-reducing if you want to get fancy, and helps to maintain steady functioning of the system. So, your working in a restaurant, you give yesterdays specials instead of todays, your supervisor tells you, you correct yourself, problem solved. Positive-growth is the second type, and served to change the system functioning through growth and development. So, your business is growing, your patrons are using social media more readily, so you suggest the implementation of a social media site to promote the restaurant and promote further growth.
When you sit back and think about systems theory as a whole you can really see how it has been implemented in your organisation you work in on a daily basis. If one subsystem breaks down, it proves to be a rather large, catastrophically, dominant and concerning problem. For me, whilst studying this area, it links back to the human resources area in ways for me. The correct management of staff will ensure the subsystems and on a larger scale supersystems work fluently. It’s been no secret in the media over the past 5 years that there has been shortages in nursing staff and facilities in hospitals across the nation. This has lead to the throughput of the heath care industry having to change rapidly and without the correct management, could have proven to be awful, having said that, it hasn’t been a bumpy ride for the Nursing industry…but that’s a whole different story. My point is systems are important, and aspects of that system (staff) are even more important as they are the ones that make it work!
Speaking of staff…Culture time.
Culture is such a broad term and can comprise many different facets. When many people think about culture they think of the culture of a Nation, Australians: Barbies, Beers, Beaches, Bogans.
Americans: freedom, independence, flag, fourth of July
Today however, we are talking about organisational culture. We are looking at what qualities make an organisation different from one another. What makes Google different from Apple? McDonalds from Burger King?
It’s only been in the last 20th century that organisational scholars have become fascinated with the concept of ‘organisational culture’. Deal and Kennedy’s “Strong Cultures” argues that businesses can be enhanced through “strong cultures”, and if an organisation embodies this then it will be a better place for individuals to work and will improve performance. Lets look at Apple and this video of Steve Jobbs on managing people:
He mentions the notion of the organisation functioning as a start-up business where one person is in charge of different aspects of the business, and the tremendous team work at the top allows for this to happen as it filters down through the organisation. Think about what we have learnt so far from pervious blog posts. Human resources and systems theory in particular really apply to this. The concepts and theories present in each are all somewhat intertwined, and are shown in this video above. The culture at Apple, therefore, is a strong, motivated and successful one, and the success of this lies in the HR management and their systems of operating as a start-up. And as for Google…well:
All in all, personally, I see HR practices and corporate culture intertwine, and I strongly believe both are crucial to the productivity, motivation and loyalty of staff.