Principles of Organizational and Social Systems icon

Principles of Organizational and Social Systems

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Knowledge Area Module 3:

Principles of Organizational and Social Systems

Student: Jay Seller,

Student ID # 0363121

Program: Ph.D. Education

Specialization: K12 Leadership

KAM Assessor: Christina Dawson,

Faculty Mentor: Christina Dawson,

Walden University

July 2, 2008



This Knowledge Area Module 3 focuses on social systems theory and systems thinking, studying the interaction among different parts of a system. It pays special attention to the mutual relationship between the larger society, the teaching profession, and the researcher. The basic understanding of general systems theory is that real systems are open to and interact with their environments and that they can acquire new properties through these ongoing interactions. The Breadth essay combines the exploratory process of systems and systems thinking and defines the true nature of social systems and their application to specific areas of research. The exploratory nature of the essay appreciates the open systems theory and systems thinking that were developed originally by Ludwig von Bertalanffy and the additional contributions by numerous other researchers noted. The essay also provides identification and discovery of common ground amongst social systems and the development of a creative synthesis to guide the researchers’ thinking. Particular emphasis is given to ideas and thoughts that connect to the organizational systems of the school environment during the exploratory process, evaluating a variety of systems and theoretical approaches to social issues.



The Depth portion consist of two parts: the annotated bibliography of 15 recent journal articles that address various systems-oriented approaches to illuminating or resolving important adolescent GLBT issues, and a research literature review essay on the same topic. The essay compares and contrasts soft-systems methodology, organizational systems theory, and family systems theory of psychology, all of which illuminates the importance of adolescent GLBT issues. The essay further explores best practices in systems-oriented approaches that significantly address GLBT concerns.



Utilizing the information gained in the Breadth and Depth portions of this paper on organizational systems and family systems theory, the author created the application project. The applications project includes a PowerPoint demonstration lesson on family systems theory, embedded in the Horizon GSA Web site (,) and which demonstrates an understanding, analysis, and synthesis of the principles and methods of Bowen’s family systems theory of social systems and their relevant application to the high school GLBT community. Part one of the application presentation centers on organizational systems and part two connects the family systems theory to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender family systems theory.



Systems Theory and Systems Analysis 1

Historical Overview of Systems Theory and Systems Analysis 2

Systems Inquiry 4

Cybernetics 5

Organizational Theory 6

Systems Psychology 10

Soft System Methodology and Systems Thinking 12


Annotated Bibliography 19

Literature Review Essay 56

Family Systems Theory 58

Family Systems Theory – Triangles 59

Family Systems Theory – Differentiation 60

Family Systems Theory – Nuclear Family Emotional System 61

Family Systems Theory – Family Projection Process 62

Family Systems Theory – Multigenerational Transmission Process 63

Family Systems Theory – Emotional Cutoff 64

Family Systems Theory – Sibling Position 66

Family Systems Theory – Societal Emotional Process 67

Family Systems Summary 68

Soft Systems Methodology and Organizational Systems 70

Organizational Systems – Culture 71

Organizational Systems – Structure 72

Organizational Systems – Internal Economy 72

Organizational Systems – Methods and Tools 73

Organizational Systems – Metrics and Rewards 73

Organizational Systems Summary 74


Bowen’s Family Systems Theory 76

Connections to Bowen and Others 76

Differentiation as a Concept 78

Social Anxiety 81

Coping Skills 83

The Application Project 86

Application Procedure 88

Summary 89




Systems Theory and Systems Analysis

Systems theory and systems analysis offer the researcher and the individual a variety of models for comprehensive understanding of concepts and problems in environmental settings. This paper will explore the concept that systems theory and systems analysis demonstrate that isolating a problem is not possible, that the environment and numerous other factors interact among different entities of a system. Thus, there is no need to separate out a problem from the system it exists in to analysis it; the systems approach looks at the whole system for which the problem exists. According to Francis Heylighen, from Cambridge University, the goal is to analyze a complex system or issue, “characterized by multiple, interrelated objectives, constraints and resources, and extending over various domains. It proposes guidelines for identifying possible courses of action, together with their risks, costs and benefits, thus helping a decision-maker to choose the most appropriate one” (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001, ¶8). Heylighen also contended that systems theory is probably by definition the least concise field imaginable, stating that “many fancy it the science of everything in even a broader sense than physics” (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001, ¶8).

Systems theory is an interdisciplinary field of science and the study of the nature of complex systems in the natural world, society, and science. It is a structure by which one can analyze and/or describe any group of objects that work in concert to produce some result (Bertalanffy, 1974). This researcher is especially attentive to the mutual relationship developed between the larger society that a phenomenon is in attendance and the unique characteristics of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community, and relating those characteristics to general systems theory, more specifically the humanistic approach of soft systems methodology.

Conceding that the cornerstone of general systems theory is that real systems, regardless of their complexity, are open and interact with their accompanying environments, even as the system is being studied, new properties can be added to and subtracted from the system. Systems theory has relevance, in engineering, mathematics, computing, ecology, management, and psychotherapy, thus establishing that “the same principles of organization can be found in different domains. One of the aims of systems theory is to unify different scientific disciplines by uncovering these general principles. Systems theory studies characteristics common to many or all complex systems” (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001, ¶6).

Historical Overview of Systems Theory and Systems Analysis

Systems theory was first presented by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901–1972), a biologist, at a conference at the University of Chicago, and in his later text, ^ Organismic Psychology and Systems Theory (1968), and also expounded upon in Ashby’s Introduction to Cybernetics in 1956. Both of these men were reacting to the push toward reductionism and had a desire to unify the study of science.

Reductionism: Two approaches confront the scientist. In one instance the refinement and simplification of a theory science leads to its “reduction” to or explanation by another, more fundamental science. This is a trend to be found in the history of science (Ayala, 1986) (p. 65, Depew & Weber, 1986). Ayala (1986) gives the example of the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics. Another perception of scientists recognizes that (living) systems are a hierarchy of units, with each level of interaction following its own laws. The laws operating at one level are not necessarily reducible to the laws of a lower level (Dawkins, 1982). (, 2008)

The result of this new focus is an open system that interacts with its environment, which produces qualitative aspects and properties while they are being studied, referred to as a continual evolutionary process (Heylighen & Joslyn). “Rather than reducing an entity (e.g., the human body) to the properties of its parts or elements (e.g., organs or cells), systems theory focuses on the arrangement of and relations between the parts which connect them into a whole” (Heylighen & Joslyn, 2001, ¶18).

Interdisciplinary perspectives in systems theory were further developed by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, who identified positive and negative feedback and their influences in the social sciences. Systems theory has expanded into numerous disciplines, including management – by Peter Senge, ecology – by Howard Odum, and education – by Debora Hammond, to name a few. The continued use of systems theory is relative in bridging the gap between systems science and other areas of study (Bertalanffy, 1974). As a result, the relationship between organizations and their environments became recognized as an important source of complexity and interdependence, and identified as a system. In most cases, the whole has properties that cannot be known from analysis of the constituent elements in isolation (Banathy, 1997).

The systems view is a world-view that is based on the discipline of system inquiry. Central to systems inquiry is the concept of system. In the most general sense, system means a configuration of parts connected and joined together by a web of relationships. The Primer group (a special integration group (SIG) of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research) defines system as a family of relationships among the members acting as a whole. Bertalanffy defined system as elements in standing relationship. (Banathy, 1997, ¶22)

The benefit of systems theory and systems analysis is in understanding that concepts and elements are significant, both in parts and as a whole. Interdisciplinary perspectives are critical in breaking away from industrial age models, where disciplines did not cross over, and it was a segregated way of looking only at academic subjects independently, completely separate from the arts and music (Buckley, 1967; Steiss, 1967). This type of fragmented learning environment does not produce or foster holistic learning. Instead, it breaks down to an industrial manufacturing system of thinking. As a result, the theorist attempted to develop interdisciplinary methods of systems concepts that can be translated and integrated into different environments of study.

The development of these studies conforms to the historical timeline of the post world wars, yet certainly could be considered to have its foundation in historical referencing even as far back as the Mayan numeral system and Egyptian construction. Two rules that guide the systems view are: 1) all phenomena can be viewed as a web of relationships among elements, or a system, and, 2) all systems have common patterns, behaviors, and properties that can be understood and used to develop greater insight into the behavior of complex phenomena and to move closer toward a unity of science (Laszlo, 1996).

^ Systems Inquiry

In General System Theory (1974), Bertalanffy developed the term system as a manner of using a word that would encompass and describe those principles common to systems in general. He stated that with this new approach to science,

There exist models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relationships or “forces” between them. It seems legitimate to ask for a theory, not of systems of a more or less special kind, but of universal principles applying to systems in general. (Bertalanffy, 1974, p. 32)

The main areas of systems inquiry outlined by Bertalanffy are philosophy, science, and technology. Banathy (1997) took the three Bertalanffy domains and separated them into four domains that integrate for systemic inquiry: 1) Philosophy, the ontology, epistemology, and axiology of systems; 2) Theory, a set of interrelated concepts and principles applying to all systems; 3) Methodology, the set of models, strategies, methods, and tools that instrumentalize systems theory and philosophy; and, 4) Application, the application and interaction of the domains (pp. 4–5). The resulting concept is that you can utilize a domain repeatedly and that the domains are meant to be combined and not necessarily isolated in stages. Four developments in systems theory will be discussed: cybernetics, organizational theory, systems psychology, and soft system methodology.


Following the origins of the word cybernetics, the root word “cyber” is from the Greek word for navigator. Cybernetics comes from the Greek word kybernetes, meaning steersman, governor, or pilot. Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) coined cybernetics around 1948 in his book Cybernetics to denote the study of teleological mechanisms. The word has strong ties to the field of engineering and general systems theory by Bertalanffy (1968). The terms systems theory and cybernetics have been used interchangeably and are synonyms (Pangaro, 1990). While researchers were developing function models that would be common to all systems, they distinguished the difference between the sciences of observed systems, and how that cannot be divorced from the science of observing systems (Foerster, 1974; Wiener, 1967).

Pangaro (1990) related the following characteristics of cybernetics, in his comparison to the field of artificial intelligence. Cybernetics believes that, 1) cognitive systems are autonomous; 2) organisms map through an environment back onto themselves; 3) a nervous system reproduces adaptive relationships; 4) social agreement is primary objectivity; and 5) intelligence resides in observed conversations. The goal of cybernetics is to explain complex systems that consist of a large number of mutually interacting and interrelated parts in terms of those interactions, and the study of cybernetics has been enhanced by the use of the computer (Jackson, 2000).

^ Organizational Theory

Organizational theory embraces organizations as complex, dynamic, goal-oriented institutions, which are worthy of progressive research. Organizational theory looks at the macro level of the organization, the whole organization, to understand what strategies and structures they utilize, and how they adapt within their environment. The goal of organizational theory is to be able to predict, control, or explain a behavior of an organization.

In educational structure, the seminal researcher Max Weber (1864–1920) addressed organizational formation and leadership (Weber, 1947). Organizational theory and systems theory are considered to have their roots in academia connected to Taylorism, and were coined in the 1890s after the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor and his use of goal setting and reward, as a way of motivating people. The goal of both of these researchers was to instill productivity in the workers. Taylor’s system was called scientific management, which was a “form of industrial engineering that established the organization of work as in Ford’s assembly line. This discipline, along with the industrial psychology established by others at the Hawthorne Works of Western Electric in the 1920s, moved management theory from early time-and-motion studies to the latest total quality control ideas” (Copley, 1923, ¶2).

How do Taylor’s ideas compare to the organizational philosophy of work today? There are three fundamental things Taylor taught, outlined by Hamel (1995): 1) Find the best practice wherever it exists; 2) Decompose the task into its constituent elements; and 3) Get rid of things that don’t add value. This is a continuous quality improvement process, still in use today, and retrofitted into numerous areas of organization practice (Copley, 1923, ¶6).

However, Copley claims that Taylor’s ideas were widely misinterpreted in manufacturing environments in America. Copley states that a “careful reading of Taylor’s work will reveal that he placed the worker’s interest as high as the employer’s in his studies, and recognized the importance of the suggestion box, for example, in a machine shop” (Copley, 1923, ¶3).

The growth of organizational theory and studies grew exponentially after the Second World War, and the movement towards human resource departments in American organizations. Human resource departments were instruments of industrial and labor relations, but their focus became more humanistic with the actualization of goals that would result in higher productivity (McGregor, 1960/2005).

Today, there is indeed growing evidence to suggest that we are in the early or middle stages of a second industrial divide, which has been variously characterized as involving an information revolution, increased interconnection across global markets, the rise of flexible specialization in production and service operations, and a transformation toward knowledge-driven work in all sectors of the economy. McGregor understood, anticipated, and helped point the way toward what may well emerge as a future model of work, organizations and society that is rooted in core assumptions driving participative, interdependent, authentic, inventive and productive relationships. However, the alternative, an economic “race to the bottom” based on increasingly individualistic, control-oriented and competitive assumptions, is also a very real possibility. As we venture forth, McGregor’s insights about the “human side of enterprise” continue to be a beacon. We must continue to ask, as he did: What are your assumptions (implicit as well as explicit) about the most effective way to manage people? (McGregor, 2005; Introduction by Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld)

In the history of organizational research, an important and highly influential point of view came from the organizational research at Carnegie Mellon. This interdisciplinary research fundamentally altered how scholars think about organizations. The publication of Organizations (1958) by James March and Herbert Simon changed how people thought about organizations and established the foundation for the Carnegie School. Herbert Simon won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Economics for his efforts and work on decision making (Carnegie Mellon, 2008).

The psychology research of Herbert Simon (1916–2001) focused on, “1) learning from examples; 2) CaMeRa (a model using visual imagery in reasoning); 3) finding good problem representations; 4) EPAM, (a unified theory simulating perception and memory); and, 5) the psychology of scientific discovery (BACON and other programs)” (Psychology, Carnegie Mellon, 2008, ¶2). The models listed take on the form of computer programs that simulate human behavior. “In research on scientific discovery, computer programs are capable of making actual discoveries that model important cases from the history of science. Laboratory experiments with subjects in discovery situations have also been conducted” (Psychology, Carnegie Mellon, 2008, ¶6). The research conducted compared the computer models to human understanding and function, even successfully implementing their mathematics curriculum which successfully combined algebra and geometry in Chinese schools. “Making extensive use of production system programming languages for cognitive simulation provides a new and more sophisticated interpretation of stimulus-response relations” (Psychology, Carnegie Mellon, 2008, ¶7).

Today, Karl Weick, from the School of Business at the University of Michigan, has witnessed a change in qualitative methods of study that have recently become more accepted as they have been informed by the interdisciplinary fields of anthropology, psychology and sociology. In his paper, Organizational Redesign as Improvisation, Karl identifies four requirements for successful bricolage. “Bricolage is a form of improvisation practiced by some engineers, using whatever resources and repertoire come to hand, in order to perform the immediate task” (Veryard Projects,2008). The four successful bricolage steps in organizational theory are: 1) intimate knowledge of resources; 2) careful observation and listening; 3) trusting one’s idea; and, 4) self-correcting structures with feedback (Weick, 2001).

Organizational studies departments are now a staple in higher education, influenced by practitioners such as Drucker and Senge, who have instituted the change of making academic research business practice. Richard Veryard, from Merton College in Oxford, concludes, “A variety of methods are used in organizational studies. They include quantitative methods found in other social sciences such as multiple regression, non-parametric statistics, time dependent analysis, and ANOVA. In addition, computer simulation has a long history in organizational studies. Qualitative methods are also used, such as ethnography, which involves direct participant observation, single and multiple case analyses, and other historical methods. In the last 15 years or so, there has been greater focus on language, metaphors, and organizational storytelling” (Open University, 2008).

^ Systems Psychology

The basis of systems psychology is the study of human behavior and experience in complex systems. It is considered advanced psychology and is inspired by systems theory and systems thinking, and derived from the theoretical work of Roger Barker (1903–1990), and cybernetician anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1904–1980) and Humberto Maturana (1928–) (Boeree, 2008). Systems psychology is concerned with the study of motivational, affective, cognitive and group behavior (Behrmann, 1984). This approach in psychology states that “groups and individuals are considered as systems in homeostasis. Systems psychology includes the domain of engineering psychology but, in addition, is more concerned with societal systems and with the study of motivational, affective, cognitive, and group behavior than is engineering psychology (Bittel and Bittel, 1978, p. 498). “In systems psychology characteristics of organizational behaviour for example individual needs, rewards, expectations, and attributes of the people interacting with the systems are considered in the process in order to create an effective system” (Behrmann, 1984, p. 212).

Although Gregory Bateson and Humberto Maturana hail from a cybernetician position, in this context they refer to the second order of cybernetics where Roger Barker prevailed in the area of environmental influences. Dr. Roger Garlock Barker (1903–1990) was a founder of environmental psychology, a branch that focuses on the way social and physical environments influence actions and behavior. “Roger Barker's

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