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Public Sector Organization Theory

Public Sector Organization Theory

Systems theory is a practice in social work that allows professionals to look holistically at a client’s conditions and environmental factors to understand better why they face issues or hardships.

Evaluating an individual’s behaviour about these many factors in their life can be a complicated process. Still, social workers can use systems theory to piece together the puzzle pieces that have influenced their clients’ behaviour and choices.

Let’s take a closer look at what systems theory is, how it can be applied to many fields, and how it can benefit social workers and their clients.

What exactly is Systems Theory?
Systems theory is an interdisciplinary study of how systems interact within a more extensive, complex system. The central idea of systems theory, regardless of its applied discipline, is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This means that when looking at how smaller systems interact to affect the more extensive complex system holistically, specific characteristics of the whole—the complex system—cannot be easily explained or rationalized when looking at any one of its systems—its parts.

Systems theory aims to explain and develop hypotheses based on characteristics that emerge within complex systems that do not appear to be possible in any single system within the whole. This is known as emergent behaviour. If a complex system exhibits emergent behaviour, it has characteristics that its properties do not exhibit on their own.

Baking is a simple example of systems theory. Consider all of the components of a cake. If you laid them out on your counter and were unfamiliar with baked goods, it would not be easy to imagine how the eggs, flour, sugar, and other ingredients could be combined and heated to make a cake. This is since no single ingredient or environmental factor—in this case, heat—can produce a baked good like cake. According to systems theory, the whole—in this case, our dessert—is greater than the sum of its parts.

Assume you only have the baked good and are still determining its ingredients. You taste it, and it’s sweet, so you can safely assume it contains sugar. But what gives it its other characteristics? You’d have to learn about the remaining ingredients and how they were combined to create the finished product.

Consider the other aspects of these baked goods. They may be made for a special occasion, and two people strike up a conversation and strengthen their bond or relationship while eating dessert together. We began with a planned celebration, flour, sugar, eggs, etc. We ended with two people strengthening their relationship due to the unique interaction of all these moving parts.

The application of systems theory within any discipline entails looking at how all the ingredients (systems) came together to make the cake (complex system/whole) and how this ultimately gave us the result that none of these properties could produce on their own without a change in their environment (emergent characteristic).

Some fields, such as social work, have broad applications. To take a holistic approach to their work and better understand all the factors that come into play within their disciplines, experts in broad fields must apply systems theory.

Some systems theory concepts as they apply to psychology, sociology, and social work:

A system is an entity made up of interconnected/interdependent parts.
Complex system: A more powerful whole system comprised of smaller, individual systems typically used in the social sciences.
Ecological systems: The various systems that influence an individual’s behaviour.
Homeostasis: The state of a system’s steady state. A system is constantly striving for homeostasis.
Adaptation: A system’s propensity to change to protect itself when confronted with new environmental factors.
A feedback loop occurs when a system’s outputs eventually affect its inputs, causing the system to feed back into itself in a circular fashion.
The Evolution of Systems Theory
The concept of the whole being more significant than the sum of its parts is not novel. Still, the advancement of systems theory is seen in where and how it is applied—social work is a prime example of this expansion of the theory’s application.

Today, systems theory is frequently used in various psychological/sociological settings and physical sciences such as chemistry and physics.

Following WWII and the technological advances of the time, the modern application of systems theory emergedExternal link: open in new. Researchers needed a more in-depth understanding of human behaviour as it relates to the mechanisms around them—machine or otherwise—as humans interacted more and more with new technology. Signal detection theory arose from the need to develop more effective radar and sonar systems to ensure military personnel could distinguish between various signals.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s research in the 1940s and 1950s prompted the first call for a general systems theory. He published “General System Theory: Foundations, Development, and Applications” in 1968. open in new” is an external link. The goal of this book was to lay out some fundamental laws that can be applied to almost any scientific field. According to him, the way individual components within a complex system cyclically affect and are affected by the system can be applied and reveal critical information in various settings. Following this line of thought, Bertalanffy reasoned that there should be universal guidelines or principles applied across the sciences and within educational settings to unify further and relate specific fields—specifically, the natural and social sciences—rather than looking at them individually.

Bertalanffy is regarded as one of the ancestors of systems theory as it is known and practised today. Bertalanffy explained systems theory brieflyExternal link: open in new as follows:

“As a result, general system theory is a general science of wholeness.” The meaning of the somewhat mystical expression “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is simply that the isolated parts’ characteristics cannot explain constitutive characteristics. As a result, the complex’s characteristics appear novel or emergent.”

— Bertalanffy, Ludwig

System Theory Assumptions
The central assumption of systems theory is that a complex system is composed of multiple smaller systems, and the interactions between these smaller systems result in the complex system as we know it.

Certain underlying concepts and principles in systems theory are assumed to be universally applicable in different fields, even if these fields evolved independently. This assumption is critical in systems theory because it allows people like social workers and psychologists to use systems theory in ways that benefit those they are assisting.

Following that assumption, a general systems theory that provides universal guidelines for scientific research and education will allow the natural and social sciences to be further integrated and unified. This will result in a better understanding of how these sciences interact and impact our daily lives.

The Uses of Systems Theory
Systems theory is used in many sciences and provides practical insights to researchers and workers from various fields. The following are some typical applications of systems theory.

Systems psychology is a branch of psychology that investigates human behaviour and experiences within complex systems. Individuals, communities, populations, and other groups are all considered homeostatic systems. Systems psychology examines the big picture of how these systems and the complex system interact to gain insights into human behaviour.

Systems ecology is an interdisciplinary field that studies ecological systems using the holistic approach of systems theory, focusing on ecosystems and interactions between biological and ecological systems.

Another interdisciplinary approach that employs the principles of systems theory is systems engineering. When applied in the real world, systems engineering is often a collaborative effort that considers all stages of a product or service’s development, from conception to use and disposal.

Systems chemistry, which takes systems theory down to the molecular level, is an excellent example of the universality of certain scientific assumptions and principles. These researchers investigate networks of interacting molecules to generate functions from collections of molecules with varying emergent properties.

These examples demonstrate how systems theory can provide insight at the molecular level up to investigating how one’s environment influences behaviour and vice versa.

Now that we’ve covered some of the most common applications of systems theory in various fields let’s take a closer look at how it can be applied to social work.

What Role Does Systems Theory Play in Social Work?
When it comes to successful social work, a holistic approach to an individual’s personality, choices, and difficulties is essential. Like the other professions mentioned, social workers must consider all the factors that unite uniquely to shape their experiences and who they are.

Systems theory can help social workers understand problems like child abuse, family issues, and community dysfunction as they relate to individual issues like anxiety, low self-esteem, self-harm, or relationship problems. Multiple social work-specific practices have been developed based on systems theory. Several prominent examples are provided below.

Theory of Family Systems
Family systems theory, developed by Dr Murray Bowen in 1946, sees the family unit as a complex system with its systems and feedback loops. He developed eight interlocking family system concepts for practitioners to examine and improve family functioning.

Life as a Model
Carel E. Germain and Alex Gitterman created the life model of social practice work in 1980, which was heavily influenced by systems theory. The life model was groundbreaking in that it introduced the concept of bringing an ecological perspective to social work—examining how singular and complex systems interact as these concepts relate to social work practice.

Model of Socio-Ecology
Urie Bronfenbrenner created the socio-ecological model in 1979External link: open in new. According to this model, individuals are conditioned by the five systems that create their environment: individual, micro, meso, exo, and macro. From an individual’s sex and age at the individual level to the culture they were raised in at the macro level, these five systems comprise an individual’s current state of affairs.

System Theory’s Defects
One flaw of social systems theory is that it does not always adequately explain an individual’s current circumstances. A more traditional psychological approach may be used in these cases. Examples of this are people with severe mental illnesses who require specialized care or medication.

Another area for improvement with social systems theory is the difficulty in reaching actionable conclusions from what is discovered. Identifying problems is important, but solving them can be difficult, especially at the cultural and policy levels. Furthermore, social workers may need help to truly understand their clients’ social and cultural upbringing and environment, which can hinder progress.
Despite these flaws, social systems theory is essential in social work because it helps practitioners better understand those they work with.

Summary and Additional Learning Resources
Systems theory is critical to the advancement of society. Only by examining all of the moving parts can we better understand the whole and how it works—a principle that applies to both physical and social sciences. We can further integrate our understanding of separate phenomena by applying these broad truths across disciplines.

Systems theory is essential in social science because it looks at the individual holistically to draw insights and use them to move forward.

In his book “General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications,” Ludwig von Bertalanffy discusses his research and its importance to systems theory.

Open in new” is an external link.
Public Sector Organization Theory
See our article “What Is Social Ecology?” for more information on social ecology and the socio-ecological model. (See also our guide to crucial social work theories.)

Visit the Bowen Center External link: open new to learn more about Bowen’s family systems theory and its eight interlocking components.

See “The Life Model of Social Work Practice – Advances in Theory and Practice, Third Edition” by Alex Gitterman and Carel B. Germain for more information.

Open in new” is an external link.

If you’re interested in a career in social work, look into online social work degrees or start with our article on how to become a social worker.
1. Compare and contrast the overarching ideas of natural systems theory and open systems theory.

Natural systems theory indicates that organizational members are members due to their commitment to attaining organizational goals. That is because there is a variation between the ‘real’ and stated objectives the organization pursues (between the operational objectives being observed and the professed objectives that are announced) (Tompkins, 2004). The difference indicates that the real agreed-upon objective is a multifaceted series of objectives with varying meanings at different organizational levels. However, unlike the natural systems theory, the open systems theory indicates the impact of the environment on the business (Tompkins, 2004). Since all systems as shown in this assignment help are regarded as a blend of parts where its connection makes them co-dependent, there are several ways the environment is involved in the relationship. Firstly, the system transforms into organic or open system while process or walls do not restrain the organizational structure within the business. Secondly, the organization is infiltrated, supported, and shaped by the environment surrounding the business.

2. Identify and explain the “zones of indifference” as explained by Chester Barnard.

Chester Barnard’s influential work focuses on compliance impulses in people and their inclination to contribute to the business instead of just responding to formal authority. Thus, the zone of indifference, according to Barnard, is a range or zone of activities that the manager gives that the worker is inclined to follow without judgment or reservation (Tompkins, 2004). An employee has certain expectations of his or her employer and there are certain contributions the worker is willing to provide to the boss. These contributions comprise quantity of applied talent and intensity of loyalty and skills. Activities beyond the zone of indifference need extra will or inducements before being conducted. A career growth and job security are examples of inducements.. However, Barnard is concerned that organizations can manipulate the zone of indifference by providing inducements that exceed sacrifices and burdens (Tompkins, 2004). Nonetheless, when the balance between burdens and inducements is negative, employees will behave in unreliable ways, malinger, or resign. To this end, that is why management that is coerced fails. See for a detailed explanation.

3. What is structural-functional theory?

The goal of structural-functional theory is to address the structure based on their roles as it views society as a structure (the varying types of institutions, the roles that institutions play, and how they are vocalized). When he noticed the similarities between the human body and society, Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher and scientist, became the forerunner of structural-functional theory (Tompkins, 2004). It may be argued that many social groups collaborate to keep society working, just as various physical organs coexist peacefully to keep the body healthy. Society’s social structure comprises certain components such as values, social norms, and social institutions that are symbiotic and interconnected. Each element has a specified objective and overall they provide a stable and balanced running of society. Ref:

Emile Durkheim is a structural-functionalist who claims that incompatibility between social norms and the traditional belief systems can cause social change. However, he states that organic solidarity and mechanical solidarity are the two types of society that keep it intact (Tompkins, 2004). Primitive communities have mechanical solidarity as it lacks status differentiation and economic advancement. On the other hand, organic solidarity provides society with status differentiation and widespread division of labor. To this end, society needs functional differentiation because it brings people together and strengthens social solidarity.

4. Explain the contribution of Lewin and Likert to the field of organization theory.

Kurt Lewin is well known for proposing change management in the beginning of the 20th century. He is also among the first to study organizational development and explore group dynamics (Tompkins, 2004). He created a model with three stages of change (unfreezing, change process, and refreezing) to assess the process of change in the environment of the organization and to determine how to challenge the status quo to realize effective change. On the other hand, Rensis Likert proposed the management systems in the 1950s (Tompkins, 2004). He offers four management frameworks (participative, consultative, benevolent, and exploitative authoritative) to explain the duties, engagement, and interactions between management and workers in industrial contexts.

Conflicts and disagreements

When an employee alleges that he or she is being discriminated against because he or she has the same skills and experience as someone else, he or she is likely to be involved in an employment dispute. A direct or instantaneous link is not required. However, a workplace conflict is not always the result of a disagreement between coworkers of different races, sexes, or other differences; in fact, many such conflicts develop on a daily basis over personal matters and are not directly related to illegal discrimination. As a result, employment conflicts are distinct from workplace conflicts, which are characterized by the reality of dispute in the workplace rather than the legality of the conflict itself. Disputes in the workplace are most often between an individual and his or her employer over a specific decision, but they can also arise between groups of employees.

In order to have a bad relationship between an employer and an employee, there are many factors that contribute to it. Strikes, gherao, lockouts, and other industrial issues show that relations between employers and employees are far from ideal. Factors that contribute to poor employer-employee relations can be found in a wide range of areas.

Causes of the Economic Crisis Writing Help

Poor salaries and working conditions are the primary causes of poor relations between management and workers. Other economic factors include unauthorized deductions from wages, a lack of fringe benefits, a lack of advancement chances, discontent with job evaluation and performance evaluation techniques, and flawed incentive schemes. Trade unions agitate and industrial peace is disrupted when businesses fail to pay workers fairly and provide them with decent working and living circumstances. Industrial conflict is exacerbated by a lack of suitable infrastructure, worn-out equipment, poor design, poor upkeep, and other physical and technological factors.

Causes in the Workplace

It is the organizational causes of poor relations in industry, such as a faulty communication system, dilution of supervision and command, the non-recognition of trade unions, unfair practices, and violations of collective agreements and standing orders as well as labor laws.

causes that benefit the greater good

The biggest societal reason is the boring nature of job. The factory system and specialization have made the worker a mere cog in the machinery. There is no longer any pride or satisfaction in the worker’s work. Employer-employee relations have been strained as a result of social tensions, the breakup of families, and a rise in intolerance. Industrial conflicts arise from dissatisfaction with one’s work and personal life.

Causes of Politics

Multiple trade unions, inter-union rivalry, and the political aspect of trade unions weaken the trade union movement. Collective bargaining is ineffective if there are no strong and accountable trade unions. As a strike committee, the union’s status has been relegated. The outsiders who become union leaders by making grandiose promises to workers demand too much from businesses. Disputes emerge when companies refuse to meet their expectations, which harms ties between employers and employees across the country.

Having a bad relationship between the employer and the employee can have a negative impact on everyone. Conflicts in the workplace limit labor productivity. Costs go up as a result of a decrease in productivity and quality. Employee turnover and absences rise as the workplace loses its sense of discipline. The collapse of industry has a negative impact on the working class. Getting better pay and working conditions is a major struggle for them. Many of them are demoted or fired as a result of this. According to these theories, Ferguson employees’ relations can be analyzed and relevant concepts may be applied to the company’s personnel.


Tompkins, J. R. (2004). Organization theory and public management. Cengage Learning.

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