The Application of Systems Theory to Organizational Diagnosis

Arthur M. Freedman

20.1 Introduction

When planning for change, decision-makers determine what to change in order to achieve their selected change objectives. These decisions depend upon the application of implicit or explicit mental models of organizations as complex systems. These models describe the systemic variables that decision-makers believe account for the causes of perceived gaps between an organization’s current and desired states. Much of the time, these mental models are implicit and are composed of leaders’ local or indigenous theory. That is, the models reflect the decision-makers’ beliefs, assumptions, and opinions. Further, implicit models are not usually accessible for explicit testing for either validity or ­comprehensiveness. However, there are explicit mental models of organizational systems that are accessible and can be tested. A number of these systems models are presented in this chapter—in historical order—along with commentaries about their contributions, advantages, and ­disadvantages. The intent is to provide decision-makers with sufficient information about their organizational systems to enable them to make informed decisions about where to look to: localize indicators of problems; identify root causes and sources; specify the involved parties that might contribute to problems and will be affected by executing plans for change; determine where to intervene in order to correct or prevent problems; ...

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