Organizations as Systems

Published January 26, 2015 by Mayrbear's Lair


As human beings, we spend most of our lives in systems: a family system, a classroom, peer groups, teams, organizations, community, nations, and ethnic groups to name a few. When individuals fail to recognize systems, they tend to fall out of partnership with one another and their surroundings. They are prone to misunderstandings and invent information to explain what they do not know. They create falsehoods and biases. In short, they become separated when they could remain a part of something. People become oppressed when they could live in accord with one another. As a result, most systems, organizations, families, and other groups squander much of their potential. When this occurs without awareness or choice it becomes a blind reflex. Oshry (2007) identifies five types of system blindness: (a) spatial, (b) temporal, (c) relational, (d) process and (e) uncertainty. For example, when a person suffers from spatial blindness, they only see part of a system, not the whole. They see what is happening to them, but not necessarily what is occurring elsewhere for instance. They cannot view another’s perspective or comprehend some of the issues they face, the stresses they may feel, nor can they ascertain how their views impact their lives or that of others (Oshry, 2007).


To understand an organization as a system, we must first address what this means. Asking questions like, how does information in the organization flow — does one department hold back in order not to give away an advantage? Is attention focused more on one type of input, where another type of input might provide more leverage? In addition, how do groups within the organization view themselves? Espejo and Reyes (2011) contend there is a distinct difference between what is classified as a black box organization and an operational interpretation of an organizational system. The former is concerned with the transformation of inputs and outputs; the latter centers on the relationships that create a whole entity from a set of various components. The black box description is often formulated from an individual’s concept who is trying to control the situation from the outside. In other words, it is a form of unilateral control. An operational system on the other hand, is connected to ongoing explanations between components that are determined to achieve stability in their relationships. Control in this model is quite different than that of the unilateral control system of the black box frame. It is attained from communications, accommodation and mutual influence (Espejo & Reyes, 2011).

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When employed as an independent contractor, I create my own systems of operation, as well as adhere to the systems and parameters from those that hire my services. For example, my internal systems consist of resources and components that enable me to produce products and provide social media services for clients. These components include the use of transmitting data and intellectual products from a reliable, effective high-speed internet connection, creative state-of-the-art software for production, communication devices, and openness to feedback for adjustments to smoother operational functions.


David Garvin, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School postulates that an effective organizational system that encourages the learning process must consist of the following six critical activities for successful outcomes: (1) the collection of information, (2) learning from the successful experiences (benchmark) of others, (3) learning from past experiences, (4) experimentation with new ideas, (5) the encouragement of problem solving, and (6) sharing knowledge (Garvin, 2003). Even if a business is solely operated by one individual, that person must still gather information for the new job which then flows as input and data processing. Once the data is received, it is then interpreted and formulated into a new project assigning attention to priorities and deadlines.

Say for example, a client of a marketing organization, conducts a monthly educational meeting presentation to recruit and motivate people in the real estate industry. Once the marketing firm receives the data regarding the upcoming event, team members process the information and transform it into intellectual properties in the form of invitations, press releases, and creative forms of advertising campaigns. Next, they would organize reports from the feedback of potential participants. Once the presentation is completed, they can implement follow up systems to keep connected with participants, including appreciative forms of communication like thank you cards and gifts, as well as receiving feedback for self-assessment to help that company make the next presentation more effective. Having systems like these in place, including the organization of client information, leaders can evaluate and learn from their mistakes by observing what works and what can use improvement. In conclusion, organizations as systems serve as a tool to help us learn and work better together as well as help serve others more efficiently. Acknowledging mistakes, keeping open communication, listening to feedback, and engaging in active action reviews, are just a few of the systems companies can implement to make their working relationships more effective.

That’s it for today! Until next time … work on organizing your systems!


Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. – A. A. Milne


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Espejo, R., & Reyes, A. (2011). Organizational systems: Managing complexity with the viable system model. New York, NY: SPi Publisher Services.

Garvin, D. (2003). Building a more effective learning organizztion [Motion Picture]. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from!

Oshry, B. (2007). Seeing systems: Unlocking the mysteries of organizational life. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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