Berrett-Koehler

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Organizations as Systems

Published April 17, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

human network

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).

Black-Box

Espejo and Reyes (2011) research contends there is a distinct difference between what they classify 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). An independent contractor for example, may create their own systems of operation, as well as adhere to the systems and parameters from those that hire their services.

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Garvin (2003) postulates that an effective organization must consist of the following six critical activities for a learning organization to be successful: (1) collect information, (2) learn from the successful experiences (benchmark) of others, (3) learn from past experiences, (4) experiment with new ideas, (5) encourage problem solving, and (6) share knowledge (Garvin, 2003). For many businesses, important information for projects  flows as input and data processing. Once data is received, it is then interpreted and formulated into a new project ascertaining priorities and giving attention to deadlines.  A client that conducts a monthly Lunch-n-Learn presentation, for example, to recruit and motivate new clients, would require systems in place to manage the event. Once the data is received regarding an upcoming event, the information is processed and transformed into intellectual properties in the form of invitations, a press release, and creative marketing to support the event. Next, reports are organized from the feedback of potential participants. Once the presentation is completed, follow up systems are implemented to keep connected with participants, including appreciation forms of communication like thank you cards. Feedback for self-assessment is also important. It helps make the next presentation more effective. With having systems in place, including the organization of client information, leaders can evaluate and learn from their mistakes by observing what works and what does not. These systems serve as a tool that help people learn and work better together, as well as serve others more efficiently. Acknowledging mistakes, keeping open communication, listening to feedback, and engaging in active action reviews, are some of the systems organizations have implemented to make their working relationships more effective.

References:

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

Building a more effective learning organizztion (2003). [Motion Picture]. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hXwBw2EZKHE#!

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