The natural systems

This work served to popularise the idea that in different environmental circumstances some species of organisation are better able to survive than others according to their degree of differentiation and integration and since the relations between organisation and environment are the product of human choices they may be maladapted. Connected to the point made by Lawrence and Lorsch, The internal regulatory mechanism of a system must be as diverse as the environment with which it is trying to deal with.By incorporating variety into internal controls a system can deal with external variety. The incorporations appear by ‘evolution’ and the capacity to evolve depends on the ability to progress to more complex forms of differentiation and integration, which greatly enhances the organisations ability to deal with challenges imposed by the environment. And evolution is where our analysis of the natural systems model turns to an appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses.The main strength of the natural systems model is its emphasis on understanding interactions with the environment. Instead of viewing the organisation as an entity encapsulated in its closed world, the organic theory emphasises that organisations are open systems in a continuous cyclical exchange from input to output with the environment.

Using the analogy of a living organism, as long as the key elements needed to sustain life are functioning effectively it keeps running, although not optimally.Optimum efficiency, as with any organism is obtained from providing more than adequate resources to maintain a healthy system that coordinates well between one subsystem and another. In the same light, organisations can be improved and kept healthy with attention to ‘needs’ that must be satisfied to keep the organisation running. The central aim is for the organisation to survive – the point is, survival does not entail specific operational goals but is a smooth running process that incorporates every facet of existence within the organisation, and thus specific goals are amenable subtexts.This calls forth increased flexibility for management and based on the contingency theory, increased flexibility can be equated to organisational success in the long run. Another strength of the natural systems model is that it alerts us to the identification of various ‘species’ of organism and effective organisations are contingent on environmental circumstances just, as a species exists in their habitat.

This meaning that managers and those involved in organisation design always have choice and effective organisation depends on the quality of choice.Although the argument can be used as a weakness of the natural systems model in that the environment always has the upper hand in determining that fate of an organisation, the contingency view nevertheless offers flexibility of approach in the face of such environmental determinism. Donaldson (1985) argues that Contingency theory can take account of organisational change via the notion of systems being disturbed by external pressures only to reach a new equilibrium. Moreover, this pushing to the limits can breed innovation, another strength of the natural systems model.If the Contingency theory stresses the notion of decision making as an activity partly constrained but displaying choice and variability, then its suggestive that if innovation is a priority – flexible, dynamic, project oriented forms of organisations will have the upper hand.

A major limitation of the natural systems model is its actual analogy with all that is organic. Although there are many parallels between a biological system and an organisation, there are also many exceptions, which make the organic analogy breakdown.This includes the life path of an organisation. An organisation does not necessarily always die neither does an organisation operate ineffectively on a permanent basis. The main critique of the natural systems model has been Gouldner. Theorist’s like Gouldner see the natural systems model as a fallacious assumption that an organisation has a ‘natural history’ and follows ‘natural laws’.

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In reality, organisations have units that make rationalised decisions executed with precision concerning the nature and direction of organisational growth.Rather than following a deterministic ‘natural pattern’ the organisation is directed by the free will of calculated decisions made by management thus de-emphasising the rational features of many organisations. The rational features understood as a socially constructed phenomenon that goes beyond the concrete way of seeing things through the natural systems model lenses.

In being extensions of the human psyche – Visions, ideas, norms – their shape and structure are much more fragile than what the natural systems model allows for.Its true that organisations consist of many material aspects such as land and machines but organisations fundamentally depend on the actions of creative human beings thus its misleading to suggest that environments ‘select’ the organisations that are to ‘survive’ as do the contingency theorists as well as the ecologists. This view greatly undermines purposive human action in the struggle for survival. Besides this, organisations, unlike organisms, have a choice whether they are to compete or collaborate.An organisation working in isolation is vulnerable to the impact of the environment but the organisation is able to collude in an oligopolistic market structure in pursuit of plural interests to shape the environment they desire. Finally, how accurate can we be in comparing organisations to organisms in the natural world? Most organisms are characterised by functional interdependence whereby every element of the system works for the elements of another.Thus in the human body, the brain, the heart, the lungs and the liver normally work together to preserve the homeostatic functioning of the whole. The system is unified and shares a common life and a common future.

When one system is dysfunctional such as that caused by a heart attack, the consequences can be pathological. Most organisations, however, are not so fully functionally unified as organisms.The different elements of an organisation are capable of living separate lives and often do so e. g.marketing department can be independently co-ordinated outside of the firm and be a separate ‘organism’ in its own right.

In drawing conclusions, The central tenet of the organic theory is basically that If humans are individually living systems with needs that must be satisfied, then as groups, in organisations, they continue to function as a living system with needs that must be satisfied. In light of the analogy, the organisation is deemed as systems made up of interdependent parts, each part functioning so that the entire system survives over time.The system draws its energy, in order to satisfy needs, from the external environment and has built in mechanisms for maintaining and regulating the relations between its component parts.

This is what signifies it as an open systems approach. The main strength of the natural systems model is its emphasis on understanding interactions with the environment. Instead of viewing the organisation as an entity encapsulated in its closed world, the organic theory emphasises that organisations are open systems in a continuous cyclical exchange from input to output with the environment.The contingency theory provides increased flexibility for management, which can be equated to organisational success in the long run. Another strength of the natural systems model is that it alerts us to the identification of various ‘species’ of organism and effective organisations are contingent on environmental circumstances just, as a species exists in their habitat.

This meaning that managers and those involved in organisation design always have choice. Weaknesses of the natural systems model includes its undermining of rationalised human decision.The analogy breaks down when we consider that organisations may not actually ‘die’ like organisms or be so detrimentally affected by the collapse of one department of the organisation to create pathological outcomes. As with varying models in any school of thought, each model focuses our attention on specific dimensions of organisations, so much so that we forget each theory is integrative with the other and do in essence explain the same thing, depending on the model chosen for analysis, a different viewpoint of how organisations function will be obtained.

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