Systems Approach to an Organisation

Principle & Practice of Management

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Systems Approach to an Organisation

Systems Approach An Organization

We may look at the organisation from two different angles:
1. We may consider the overall picture of the organisation as a unit; or
2. We may consider the relationship between its various internal components.
When we consider the overall picture of the organisation, we consider all the elements—internal and external—and their effects on each other simultaneously. This Systems approach may be called the ‘goalistic view’ because it tries to reach the goal of an organisation by unifying the efforts of all the elements. For example, when we consider finance, workers and their attitude, technological developments, etc. we are following ‘golistic view’. It serves as a mean-ends analysis which in turn facilitates the division of work and helps in judging the extent of success of comparing actual and targeted performance. But it does not answer many problems such as interdependence of elements, organisations environment, interface, etc. It gives a systematic view when we consider the second approach, i.e., we examine the relationship between each element of the organisation and their interdependence. If we examine employer-employee, customer and organisation, debtors-organisation relationships, we follow systematic view.
The systems approach focused attention on the following aspects:
1. It integrates all elements for the proper and smooth functioning of the organisation.
2. The organisation overall goals can be achieved successfully because it considers all the aspects of the problems deeply and maintains a harmonious relationship between various elements so that they work unitedly to achieve goals.
3. The Systems approach helps in acquisition and maintenance of various resources, i.e., man, material, money, and machinery, etc. for pertaining the smooth functioning of the organisation.
4. It allows adaptation to internal requirements and environmental changes in order to survive and grow.

Systems Approach

Definition and Characteristics of System

1. Definition of System Approach: Kast and Rosenzweig define the systems approach as an organised unitary whole composed of two or more interdependent parts, components or sub-systems and defined by identifiable boundaries from its environmental subsystem. More simply, a system may be referred as units composed of several interdependent parts. The systems approach may be denoted as a grouping of parts and not simply an agglomeration of individual parts. Though each part performs its own functions yet they work towards a common goal. The behaviour of the entity is a joint function of the behaviours of the individual parts and their interactions. For instance, a human body may be regarded as a system, consisting of several sub-systems, such as circulatory, reproductive digestive, nervous systems, etc. Even though each sub-system performs a different and distinguished function, they depend on each other. Similarly, an organisation is composed of a number of sub-systems of sub-systems such as internal organisation, technological, psychological, structural, managerial and environment etc. which are constantly changing and evolving. A change in one may affect the other.
2. Characteristics of System: From the analysis of foregoing definition and discussion following characteristics of a system emerge:
(a) Interdependence of parts: A system approach has several parts. Each part is dynamic and affects all other parts. They are interrelated and interdependent. Interdependence of different parts is a must in an organisation as a system because of the division of labour, specialisation, sharing of limited resources, scheduling of activities, etc. The work of the organisation is divided into various departments, sub-departments and so on, assigning each unit an independent specialised task, which on integration culminates into the accomplishment of overall organisational goals. These parts are interconnected in such a way that a change in one part may affect the other part and in this way, the whole organisation.
(b) A system is composed of several sub-systems: A system is composed of several sub-systems. For example, in a manufacturing organisation, total manufacturing is one system, within which may exist a complete production system which again may contain an inventory control system. Conversely, a system or sub-system may form part or container of another system. For example, an individual who may be a part of one system may also be a part or container for another physiological system.
(c) Every system has its own norms: Every system may be distinguished from other systems approach in terms of objectives, processes, roles, structures, and norms of conduct. So, every system is unique if anything happens in the organisation, we regard it as an outcome of a particular system and we locate the fault in the system.
(d) Systems are open: Almost all systems approach are open. Open system imports certain factors processes them and exports them to the environment. Organisation is also an open system. It imports matter, energy and information, from its environments, transforms or converts them into a usable product or useful service and export that product or service to the environment. This process of importing, transforming and exporting goes on indefinitely. Though the organisation exports, they do not import all but retain some energy within themselves for survival and growth. As they are open, they are to absorb shocks and influences from the environment and those that are flexible respond to adapt themselves to the environment situation.
(e) Systems influence and are influenced by other systems: As systems are open, they influence other systems approach in the environment depending upon its strengths and capacities in relation to other systems. Obviously, the influence of environment, in most cases is greater than the systems approach over impact on the environment.

Concept of Sub-system in an Organisation

In the previous section, we have suggested that a system is an integrated whole of various sub-systems. An organisation as a system can better be understood by identifying the various sub-systems within it. The levels of systems within a sub-system are called sub-systems and levels of systems within are identified by certain objectives, processes, role, structures and norms of conduct. A system is composed of various lower order subsystems and is also a part of a super-system.
The various sub-systems of the system constitute the mutually dependent parts of the large system, called organisation. These sub-systems interact, and through interaction create new patterns of behaviour that are separate from, but related to, the patterns specified by the original system. The interdependence of different parts as characterised by Thompson may be pooled, sequential, or reciprocal. When dependence is not direct, it is pooled interdependence. For example, an organisation, having sales divisions in different cities making their own buying and selling, but drawing upon its common funds is an example of pooled interdependence. When one sub-system is directly dependent upon another, it is sequential interdependence. Such type of interdependence may be seen in production job or assembly line when the output of one sub-system is the input for the other department or sub-system. Reciprocal interdependence refers to the situation where outputs of each unit become inputs for another such as in production and maintenance divisions. Thus, system behaviour emerged as one, and since different variables are mutually interdependent, the true influence of alerting one aspect of the system cannot be determined by changing it alone.

Classification of Sub-systems

There are various ways of classifying sub-systems and one may support any of them. Each of the organisation units may be treated as a sub-system. In other words, each functional unit of an organisation may be regarded as different sub-systems such as production sub-system, personnel or finance or sales sub-systems, etc. Seiler has classified four components in an organisation, i.e., human inputs, technological inputs, organisational inputs and social structure and norms. From these inputs, he has derived, the concept of socio-technical system, Kast and Rosenzweig have identified five sub-systems, i.e., goal and values sub-system, technical sub-system, psychological sub-system structural sub-system, and managerial sub-system. Katz and Kahn have identified five sub-systems. These are: technical sub-system concerned with the work that gets done; supportive sub-system concerning the procurement, disposal and institutional relations; maintenance sub-system for uniting people into their functional roles; adaptive sub-system concerned with organisational change; and managerial sub-system for direction, adjudication and control of the many sub-systems and activities of the whole structure. Carzo and Runzas give three kinds of sub-systems in an organisation as a system, i.e., technical, social and power sub-systems. We shall here discuss these three sub-systems.1. Technical Sub-system: The technical sub-system may be referred to as the formal organisation. It refers to the knowledge required for the performance of tasks including the techniques used in the transformation of inputs into outputs. Being a formal organisation, it decides to make use of a particular technology; there is a given layout; policies, rules and regulations are framed; different hierarchical levels are developed, authority is given and responsibilities are fixed; and necessary technical engineering and efficiency consideration are laid down. The behaviour in the organisation cannot be explained fully by technical sub-system, also because there is a fundamental conflict between the individual—a part of the system and the system itself resulting from the expectancies of the organisation and that of the people—regarding the work he has to perform. It requires certain modifications in the behaviour of the man through the social and power subsystems (explained later).
2. Social Sub-system: As we have explained earlier, there exists a conflict between an individual and the system itself because people differ very widely in abilities, capacities, attitudes and beliefs, likes and dislikes, etc. People find the formal set-up quite inadequate to satisfy all their needs, especially social ones. Gradually they are seen interacting with
each other and at times by cutting across the hierarchical and departmental lines, etc. on non-formal matters. Thus, they form groups to discuss their informal matters and display their positive and negative sentiments towards each other.
Sometimes, one member gets the membership of different social groups for different purposes and thus social behaviour is patterned.
3. Power Subsystem: Power behaviour of the people in an organisation plays a very important role. As the organisation starts functioning, people realise the importance of their job in relation to others in the organisation; the benefits of their experience to the organisation; the benefits of their experience to the organisation; the crucial location of their jobs, their personality characteristics; the fact of their access to the superior authority holder. In this way, they have acquired the power to some degree or the other, based on the source of their power that influences the decision-making and regulates others behaviour.
These three sub-systems are mutually dependent parts of the larger system, the organisation. There is interdependence between these parts of sub-systems and the whole organisation. Moreover, the organisation itself is a sub-system of a larger system society and has many other systems in its environment. Besides each part, sub-system or system constitutes the environment of the other. As such, each of them influences and in turn gets influenced by others.