The Systems Approach – Open And Closed Systems

The Systems Approach – Open And Closed Systems

System theory is basically concerned with problems of relationships, of structure, and of interdependence rather than with the constant attributes of objects. In general approach it resembles field theory except that its dynamics deal with temporal as well as spatial patterns. Older formulations of system constructs dealt with the closed systems of the physical sciences, in which relatively self-contained structures could be treated successfully as if they were independent of external forces. But living systems, whether biological organisms or social organizations, are acutely dependent on their external environment and so must be conceived of as open systems.

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The Closed Model (System) Approach

The closed model of organization is based on the closed system approach. The principal features of an organization when viewed as a closed system are:

  1. Routine tasks occur in stable conditions.
  2. Task specialization (that is, a division of labour) is central.
  3. Means (or the proper ways to do a job) are emphasized.
  4. Conflict within the organization is adjudicated from the top.
  5. One’s primary sense of responsibility and loyalty is to the bureaucratic subunit to which one is assigned ( such as the accounting department).
  6. The organization is perceived as hierarchical structure (that is, the structure looks like a pyramid).
  7. Knowledge is inclusive only at the top of the hierarchy (in other words, only the chief executive knows everything).
  8. Interaction between people in the organization tends to be vertical (that is, one takes order from above and transmits orders below), but not horizontal.
  9. The style of interacting is directed toward obedience, command and clear super-ordinate / subordinate relationships.
  10. Loyalty and obedience to one’s superior and the organization generally are emphasized, sometimes at the expense of performance.
  11. Prestige is internalized, that is, personal status in the organization is determined largely by one’s formal office and rank.

The Open Model Or The Open Systems Approach

The open model is based on the open system perspective. It is also referred to as collegial competitive, free market, informal, natural, and organic are some of them. The principal features of the open model are:

  1. Non-routine task occur in unstable conditions.
  2. Specialized knowledge contributes to common tasks.
  3. Ends, rather than means, are emphasized.
  4. Conflict within the organization is adjusted by interaction with peers, rather than adjudicated from the top.
  5. Shedding of responsibility is emphasized ( in other words, formal job descriptions are discarded in favour of all organization members contributing to all organizational problems).
  6. One’s sense of responsibility and loyalty is to the organization as a whole.
  7. The organization is perceived as a fluidic network structure (that is, the organization looks like an amoeba ).
  8. Knowledge can be located anywhere in the organization ( in other words, everybody knows something relevant about the organization, but no one, including the chief executive, knows everything ).
  9. Interaction between people in the organization tends to be horizontal ( that is, peers interact with peers), as well as vertical.
  10. The style of interaction is directed toward accomplishment advice (rather than commands), and is characterized by a “myth of peerage”, which envelops even the most obvious super-ordinate / subordinate relationships.
  11. Task achievement and excellence of performance in accomplishing a task are emphasized, sometimes at the expense of obedience of one’s superiors.
  12. Prestige is externalized ( that is, personal status in the organization is determined largely by one’s professional ability and reputation, rather than by office and rank).

Reconciling The Open And Closed Models – A Model Synthesis

Students of organizations may be initially confused by the fundamentally different paradigms of organizational theory represented by the closed and open models. The closed model assumes that people hate work, organizations are rational, their environments are stable, coercion is basic and bureaucrats are different from citizens. The open model assumes that people love work, organizations are irrational, their environments are unstable, coercion is unacceptable, and bureaucrats and citizens are one and the same. These are basic differences. Can they be reconciled, and if so, how ?

The essence of the literature of model synthesis is that it starts with the open model ( that is, it assumes that organizations are spontaneous collectives of people with their own goals and drives, who are operating in an uncertain environment ), but explains organizational behaviour as being motivated by a need to routinize and rationalize the organizations internal workings and its relationship with its environment whenever and wherever possible. This is essentially a Darwinian notion (adapt or die ). Another way of saying the same thing is that organizations try to become rational. Consider the same concept from another perspective: Organisations try to make all variables (such as member behaviour, and technological and environmental developments ) predictable. Visualized differently, we can perceive that organizations try to achieve closure. Yet another ( and perhaps the best ) way of expressing the same idea is to say that organizations try to reduce uncertainty.

Thus, the two models are synthesized, and the synthesis is predicated on three very reasonable assumptions.

  • Organisations and their environments can and do change.
  • Organizations and the people in them act to survive.
  • Organizations and the people in them can and do learn from experience, including failures and successes.
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