Organizational Theory and Management Cybernetics in system perspective

Organizations are a product of the surrounding society whose needs they serve. They have to survive and keep to its identity in this environment which must be thoroughly known if success should be possible. A characteristic of this social milieu includes the following:

  • All changes in society take place with increasing speed.
  • Science and technology develop exponentially. Social adjustments and behaviour do not keep pace.
  • The complexification of every system is rapidly growing.
  • Environment as a whole is becoming increasingly turbulent.
  • Society is increasingly materialistic and acquisitive.
  • Contrasts between poor and rich, employed and unemployed, and between different ethic and religious groups increase all the time.
  • Confrontation and violence of different kinds is becoming pervasive.
  • Confusion and uncertainty is part of everyday life.
  • The society as a whole is transformed toward global civilization.
  • Information and its manifestation like money is instantly mobile around the globe.

In spite of this turbulent environment, the organization has become the most characteristic and powerful human system of our time. It has replaced most of man’s natural world which earlier was his closest environment with an  artificial structure. Many of the big organizations has an economical turnover much exceeding the modern national state. Governments are dependent of its profits and the citizen in general for their support. It has involved man in a dependence of a faceless growing power which often cannot be given a concrete form. Organizations are creations of man, established with the sole aim to realize goals that individually acting persons scarcely can achieve. Its main idea is the division of labour which imply that when there is no labour to divide, there is no need for the organization.

Several economists state that the existence of organizations must be associated with the concept of the invincible hand. This phenomenon was introduced in 1776 by the Scottish economist, Adam Smith. It tells us that if man strives for his own self-interest, this will automatically induce advantages for all members of society. The wish to be rich, to do business and participate in the market is shared by most members of mankind. It is the traditional way to get social prestige and is one of the main reasons why organizations exist.

In spite of being the invention of man, organizations often appear to take on a personality of their own and live their own lives. In this process they indicate emergent properties which scarcely can be unveiled by use of conventional scientific methods. Particularly big organizations seems to survive independently of individual persons or smaller interest groups. Thereby they seems to have an insatiable appetite for new resources — not in order to grow — only not to stagnate. What differs the human organization from other systems is that communication both within and between them is mainly linguistic and semiotic. Another difference is that the transactional exchanges in the organization are based on the human values of the things exchanged.

Like all human creations, organizations can be both very fragile and very robust. They can be established over one night and survive in hundreds of years in contrast to the biological organisms which originally created them. At the same time they can be crowded out and dissipate their resources within a few month. Consequently, they are both more vulnerable and more long-lived than biologic organisms. Actions of one single individual may severely impel or destroy even the most influential organization. In contrast to them, however, they have the advantage of being able to renew their integral parts and thereby (at least theoretically) continue to act in an unlimited future. In contrast to genuine organisms, organizations are composed of independent components like families, interest groups and, individuals who often strives towards counteracting goals.

The organization per se can never be assigned some moral properties. It can neither be ascribed expectations nor plans and its destruction is no more a catastrophe or success than the storming of the Bastilj. From an organizational point of view, man is more significant as a consumer than as a producer. Regarding the bureaucrats of the organization, they have far more influence over the existence of other people than they have regarding their own position. For the bureaucracy, people are seen only as objects and a source of irritation as long as they do not unconditionally surrender.

There are many reasons for people to work in organizations. To get away from home, to get an eagerly awaited paycheck, to make friends, to make a social contribution, to learn particular skills and, to get recognition are among the individual motives. Some enjoy to work when they are being told what to do and feel safe in a structured, well-ordered environment. Others are satisfied with doing one thing well and over and over again while certain persons want to make their own decisions and get new challenges. Quite general, people join big organizations to satisfy needs that they cannot satisfy on their own.

The organization includes special role-structures formed by human beings to carry out specific tasks and realize particular objectives. Organizations may be private or public, business, educational, political, social service, or of other nature. They are the origin of the creation and propagation of various kinds of technical systems. Its paradox, however, is that it becomes all the less controllable with each new appearing control technique. At the same time it becomes all the less predictable with each progress in information processing. Another paradox is that every organization has its own “mal-function factor”. Investigations show that between 20 and 25 per cent of all instructions in the work are messed up by managers and workers and nothing can be done about it. It is a kind of an organizational law.

Finally, an attempt to define the distinctive mark of the human organization may give us the following points:

  • It represents certain preferences regarded as a unit.
  • It makes decisions and tries to implement and optimize them.
  • It determines its own internal structure and the aims of the subsystems.
  • It has an internal control system.
  • It leaves no stone unturned in order to ensure its continued existence (like human individuals).

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *