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1| System Approach to Management. rbtdhakal@yahoo.

com 1 March 2010

A set of things or parts forming a whole directed to meeting a particular purpose.
Ernest Madara (2008) says, “A system is a composition of several components working together to
accomplish a set number of objectives.”
Systems operate through differentiation and coordination among its components. A system can be
biological, physical or social. Examples: ecosystem, computer system, solar system, and a business
or organization, etc.
Systems exist at all levels: Persons; families; organisatins; communities; societies; cultures; etc.
Holon* Whole part relation
Each social entity whether complex or simple is a holon (Greek = to express the idea that each
entity is simultaneously a part and a whole).
A social unit is made up of parts to which it is the whole (suprasystem) and at the same time is part
of some larger whole (component). Thus any system is by definition both part and whole. The
whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts because the whole includes elements, which cannot
be broken down and applied to individual members. An example is the properties of these letters
which when considered together can give rise to meaning which does not exist in the letters by
Systems notions can be used to look at people and their interactions. A human system is a set of
people who communicate, and who have goals or directions.
A system can be said to consist of four things.
a. Objects – the parts, elements, or variables within the system. These may be physical or
abstract or both, depending on the nature of the system.
b. Attributes – the qualities or properties of the system and its objects.
c. Internal relationships among its objects.
d. Environment - systems exist in an environment.
A system, therefore, is a set of things that affect one another within an environment and form a
larger pattern that is different from any of the parts.
Characteristics of a system
a) organization: there is an orderly way in which things work and operate
b) goal directedness: there are a number of goals or objectives to be accomplished
c) Integration: a way in which things are tied together
d) interaction: a way in which the components interact
e) interdependence: a way in which the various components depend on each other
and others like evolving/ adaptability/hierarchy/chain of influence (supra-systems and subsystems),
Elements of a system
a) Input –the element that initiates an activity e.g. the data entry through the devices such as
keyboard, mouse and scanners etc.
b) Throughput (Process) – this element transforms or manipulates the input into results (form the
central processing unit within a computer system)
c) Output- the ultimate result or product after processing e.g. information for decision making
+ d) Feedback – This element measures performance by comparing the inputs and output. Negative
feedback necessitates the need for action to reverse the performance that is unsatisfactory. Positive
feedback enhances performance.
e) Environment- this is the surroundings of a given system e.g. the end-user
f) Control – This element synchronizes the various activities within the given system e.g. the
control unit within the CPU
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g) Boundary – this element determines the limitations of what defines what is within and without
the systems e.g. the human computer interface determines the interaction between the end-user and
the computer.
Types of systems
a) Open vs. closed systems – An open system is one that receives input from the environment
and/or releases output to the environment. e.g. an end-user with computer. A closed system is one
where interactions occur only among the system components and not with the environment. It does
not take in information and therefore is likely to atrophy, that is to vanish. Open systems can tend
toward higher levels of organization (negative entropy), while closed systems can only maintain or
decrease in organization. Open systems possess a stronger probability for survival due to this
adaptability. Conversely, a closed system resisting the incorporation of new ideas can be deemed
unnecessary to its parent environment and risks atrophy.
Ecological systems are open systems with respect to most elements and processes. They receive
energy and nutrient inputs from their physical environment and, at the same time, cycle nutrients
back out of the system.
b) Adaptive system (self organizing system or cybernetic system) – this is a system that responds to
external stimuli from the environment e.g. a plant or human- being
c) Physical vs. abstract systems- physical system is tangible and can be described using physical
quantities such as location, time, distance. Non-physical systems (abstract, conceptual or logical)
are intangible and can only be expressed in terms of the steps or formulae or diagrams.
d) Deterministic vs. probabilistic systems- the first is a system in which we can predict the results
with certainty e.g. a computer system. A Probabilistic system works on probability i.e. the results
remain uncertain e.g. weather system
e) Natural vs. man-made system
f) Mechanistic vs. organistic systems – Mechanistic system has a rigid structure and is designed on
the basis of standardized rules and regulations. It does not flex itself to changes imposed by the
environment. Organistic systems respond or are influenced by environment and are constantly
redefining its objectives according to the prevailing circumstances
g) Information system- this is a system that is made up of people, using equipment following laid
out procedures (processes) to gather data, manipulate and disseminate information in organizations.
h) Management information system- this is an information system that provides relevant
information to the different levels of management to facilitate in the planning, monitoring,
controlling coordination and communication and decision-making.
i) Systems can be either controlled (cybernetic) or uncontrolled. In controlled systems information
is sensed, and changes are effected in response to the information.
An organization as a system
An organization is an open system that brings together people to undertake activities for achieving
an objective and it can be profit-oriented (business) or charity-oriented e.g. local authority. These
organizations are made up of people in different departments that are governed by known policies
and procedures that have been developed overtime.
An organization takes in raw materials, energy and labor and through its production systems
transforms or adds value to these to produce goods or services. It is incumbent upon the
management to control the various operations by gathering feedback from customers in order to
remain relevant and where necessary it may have to enhance performance or take corrective action
especially if the results are below expectations.

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Each and every department and the entire organization have a boundary of activities they can
engage in and each department has the boundary of functions that it performs. A change in the
environment can have a profound impact on an open system.
Systemic Thinking:
 Using the mind to recognize pattern, conceive unity, and form some coherent wholeness – to
seek to complete the picture.
 Comprehension of the part/whole nature of life is the central tenet of systemic thinking.
 System thinking focuses on causes, rather than events around organizations in solving
problems effectively
According to Banathy (1987), there are four subsystems in any educational enterprise:
i. The learning experience subsystem: the cognitive information processing of the learner
ii. The instructional subsystem: the production of the environment or opportunities for
learners to learn by the instructional designers and teachers
iii. The administrative subsystem: decision making of resource allocation by the
administrators based on the instructional needs and governance input
iv. The governance subsystem: the production of policies which provide directions and
resources for the educational enterprise in order to meet their needs by "owners"
Systems theory involves the basic idea that objects in the world are interrelated to one another.
System theory provides a framework by which groups of elements and their properties may be
studied jointly in order to understand outcomes.
The fundamental systems-interactive paradigm of organizational analysis features the continual
stages of input, throughput (processing), and output.
Conceptual Model

Simple System Model. Source: Littlejohn (1999)

Retrieved on 17 Feb. from:
Ideas of systems view
The systems view was based on several fundamental ideas. First, all phenomena can be viewed as a
web of relationships among elements. Second, all systems, whether electrical, biological, or social,
have common patterns, behaviors, and properties that can be understood and used to develop
greater insight into the behavior of complex phenomena.
Systems theory comes from the general systems theory proposed by Hungarian biologist Ludwig
von Bertalanffy. The systems view investigates the components of the phenomena, the interaction
between the components, and the relation of components to their larger environment. The systems
approach gives primacy to the interrelationships, not to the elements of the system. It is from these
dynamic interrelationships that new properties of the system come forth.
Organizations are complex social systems. Reducing the parts from the whole reduces the overall
effectiveness of organizations.
The Systems Approach
Components of the organizational concepts (referred to as "systems approach") have been used to
manage armies and governments for centuries. However, it was not until the Industrial Revolution
of the 19th and 20th centuries that formal recognition of the "systems" approach to management,

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philosophy, and science emerged (Whitehead 1925, von Bertalanffy 1968). Four major concepts
underlie the systems approach:
• Specialization: A system is divided into smaller components allowing more specialized
concentration on each component.
• Grouping: To avoid generating greater complexity with increasing specialization, it
becomes necessary to group related disciplines or sub-disciplines.
• Coordination: As the components and subcomponents of a system are grouped, it is
necessary to coordinate the interactions among groups.
• Emergent properties: Dividing a system into subsystems (groups of component parts within
the system), requires recognizing and understanding the "emergent properties" of a system;
that is, recognizing why the system as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For
example, two forest stands may contain the same tree species, but the spatial arrangement
and size structure of the individual trees will create different habitats for wildlife species. In
this case, an emergent property of each stand is the wildlife habitat.
It is a concept which views a company as an interconnected purposive system that consists of
several business sections. It studies a firm in its totality so that the men and material resources of
the firm can be organized to realize the firm's overall objectives efficiently.
Flow, Process, and Response in Business Systems
The collaborative working of input and output factors is known as the flow in a system. The
processes in a system consist of several subsystems that are interconnected to each other by
procedures. The response or feedback in a system focuses on the information and data which is
utilized for executing certain operations. The information is the know-how that is fed in men and
machines. These inputs aid in correcting the errors found in the processes. - Rampur (2009)
The systems approach to management is based on general system theory - the theory that says that
to understand fully the operation of an entity, the entity must be viewed as a system. This requires
understanding the interdependence of its parts. It implies that every manager should be much more
precise about decision-making and information flow. The management system is composed of a
number of parts that function interdependently to achieve a purpose. It is an open system. It
interacts with its business environment which includes customers, suppliers, competitors, and
government. This approach is now becoming essential because of the growth of complexity of
firms and the increasing potential of computers.
7-S Model: The 7-S model is a framework for analyzing organizations and their effectiveness. It
looks at the seven key elements that make the organizations successful, or not: strategy; structure;
systems; style; skills; staff; and shared values. to improve your organization, you have to pay
attention to all of the seven elements at the same time.
The System approach views the organization as a unified, purposeful system composed of
interrelated parts. This way the manager can look at the organization as a whole or part of the larger
outside environment. Activity of any part affects all other parts of the organization.
- According to GST, nothing can be understood in isolation but must be seen as part of a
system. It includes the narrower field of social systems, is a cross-disciplinary body of
scientific thought that developed during the twentieth century.
- It is a framework for perceiving, analysing, and acting in complex social situation, though
well known and highly regarded, the use of this approach remains limited.
- General systems theory can be defined as: elements, which are in exchange, and which are
bounded constitute a "system", which functions or operates within a field or an
- System change may be natural, planned or managed. Management can be said to be an
attempt to ensure that a system or element fits in with a super-system in a way that works
appropriately to accomplish some end or goal.

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GST was originally proposed by Hungarian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in 1928. He proposed
that 'a system is characterized by the interactions of its components and the nonlinearity of those
interactions.' In 1980, cosmologist Stephen Hawking then expanded systems thinking to the global
platform by introducing the 'Chaos Theory' that claims the 'interconnectedness of all things'--- (i.e.
the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Asia creates a breeze in America). - Walonick(1993)
General systems theory was originally proposed by biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy in 1928.
Since Descartes, the "scientific method" had progressed under two related assumptions. A system
could be broken down into its individual components so that each component could be analyzed as
an independent entity, and the components could be added in a linear fashion to describe the
totality of the system. Von Bertalanffy proposed that both assumptions were wrong. On the
contrary, a system is characterized by the interactions of its components and the nonlinearity of
those interactions. In 1951, von Bertalanffy extended systems theory to include biological systems
and three years later, it was popularized by Lotfi Zadeh, an electrical engineer at Columbia
University. (McNeill and Freiberger, p.22)
Humanistic features of GST
The Bertalanffian GST is ethical and ecological because it aims at increasing the awareness in
every human of the need of being functionally interconnected with each other, with his or her
community, with the whole humanity, with the immediate terrestrial surroundings and with the
biosphere. It also implies that everybody should treat life with reverence, and also tend to treat each
other with respect.
Social systems perspective is a philosophical viewpoint on the relationship of persons with their
social environment. A social system is composed of persons or groups of persons who interact and
mutually influence each other’s behavior. A social system is a bounded set of interrelated activities
that together constitute a single entity. Systems perspective provides the best theoretical basis for
the study of human communication.
The social systems approach
The social systems approach encompasses both holistic (group/ top-down) and atomistic
(individual/bottom-up) views at once.
 The holistic view implies “downward” causality, while the atomistic view implies “upward”
 Holistic Viewpoint:
◦ The whole determines the actions of its parts.
◦ People are determined by society.
 Atomistic Viewpoint:
- The whole is the sum of its parts
- Persons determine the society.
• A social system is a set of inter-related and inter-dependent components
• People, Families, Groups, Organizations, Communities, etc… are all OPEN SYSTEMS
• System BOUNDARIES separate one system from the next– and tension occurs at the
• Social systems are characterized by COMPLEXITY, meaning that the possibilities of their
structures and capacities to change are immeasurable

Emphasis is placed on the “root causes” of social problems where social justice is the ultimate goal
Social System Theory is “holonistic” requiring:
• Specification of the focal system

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• Specification of the units or components that constitute that holon

• Specification of the significant environmental systems
• Specification of one’s own position relative to the focal system.
[Social Systems Theory: Human Behavior and the Social Environment]
Process Factors affecting social systems
A variety of internal processes also affect social systems. A change in one part of the system will
impact changes in other parts of system. Two internal processes are worth mentioning here:
‘morphostasis’ refers to those processes that help the system maintain itself, whereas
‘morphogenesis’ refers to those processes that help the system change, grow, more elaborate.
(Ritzer 2000,p.319)
Change in social systems
Changes in systems may come about in a variety of ways : by accessing and influencing the elite
decision-makers. Change can also come about through conflict and setting new goals, directions,
and values. Changes occur as individuals or groups move away from center or towards the center as
well, that is, mainstream and deviant locations in a system are possible.
Chaos theory
For a system to function as a system, rather than a collection of parts, it must have ways of self-
organizing and even directing behavior. ... A wild ecosystem is chaos driven. An organism or
organization is purpose driven. ...
Chaos theory concerns the analysis of unpredictable systems that are extremely sensitive to initial
conditions. One important example of a chaotic system is climate. A tiny inaccuracy in a single
measurement of a chaotic system—such as a temperature variation of a fraction of a degree—can
produce large errors in solutions to the model’s equations and predictions. Microsoft ® Encarta ®
2009. © 1993-2008.
In a 1980 lecture, cosmologist Stephen Hawking pointed out that we already know the physical
laws that govern our everyday experience. Chaos theory recognizes that systems are sensitive to
initial conditions, so that seemingly small changes can produce large changes in the system. One of
the most important discoveries from chaos theory is that a relatively small, but well-timed or well-
placed jolt to a system can throw the entire system into a state of chaos.
Study of systems
The study of systems can follow two general approaches. A cross-sectional approach deals with the
interaction between two systems, while a developmental approach deals with the changes in a
system over time.
Evaluation of subsystems
There are three general approaches for evaluating subsystems. A holist approach is to examine the
system as a complete functioning unit. A reductionist approach looks downward and examines the
subsystems within the system. The functionalist approach looks upward from the system to
examine the role it plays in the larger system. All three approaches recognize the existence of
subsystems operating within a larger system.
When all forces in a system are balanced to the point where no change is occurring, the system is
said to be in a state of static equilibrium. Dynamic (steady state) equilibrium exists when the
system components are in a state of change, but at least one variable stays within a specified range.
Homeostasis is the condition of dynamic equilibrium between at least two system variables. Kuhn
(1974) states that all systems tend toward equilibrium, and that a prerequisite for the continuance of
a system is its ability to maintain a steady state.
References 19 Feb. 2010

7| System Approach to Management. 1 March 2010 19 Feb. 2010 18 Feb 2010
Jenkins, G. M. & P. V. Youle. (1968). A Systems Approach to Management. Vol. 19, (Apr., 1968),
pp. 5-21. <>16 Feb 2010
Madara, Ernest . (Feb 12, 2008). System Theory and Its Relevance to Organisations.
organisations-331178.html> 19 Feb. 2010
Marshall, Gordon(1998). "Systems theory." A Dictionary of Sociology.
<> 19 Feb 2010
Panthi, Rakesh.(2008). Climate Change and Human Health. Nepalese Youth Summit on Climate
Change. CD.
Rampur, Stephen. (2009). Introduction to system approach to management.
<> 17 Feb 2010
Ritzer, George. (2000). Sociological theory (5th ed.). Singapore: McGraw-Hill.
Social Systems Theory: Human Behavior and the Social Environment." 16 Feb 2010
System Theory. <>17 Feb 2010
The social systems approach. <
systems-approach/>19 Feb 2010
Theories, Values and Perspectives of Macro Social Work.
<>21 Feb
Walonick, David S. 1993. General System Theory. <http://www.survey-software-> 17 Feb 2010.