Socio-technical systems theory: an intervention strategy for organizational development
Steven H. Appelbaum Professor of Management, Faculty of Commerce & Administration, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Integrating organizational development (OD) and technological intervention into a total system is one of the more difficult tasks for an executive or consultant to execute. Organizations are profoundly affected by technological advancements and require a ﬂexible customized change model to ﬁt the social network of the speciﬁc organization into which technology is being introduced. Examines socio-technical systems (STS) theory and presents classical organization theories of Burns and Stalker, Woodward, Perrow, Thompson, and Trist to develop a contemporary OD intervention in terms of selfregulating work groups (selfleading or self-managing teams) performing interrelated technological tasks. Finally, presents some pointers for executives and consultants in assessing STS interventions via 31 diagnostic questions intended to identify interactions among elements of the system.
The organization as a socio-technical system
Integrating organizational development (OD) and technological intervention into a total system is one of the more difficult tasks for a consultant to execute. This challenge demands that the OD consultant possess expertise and judgement in social, technological and systems theory and practice. This type of change is a complicated and delicate process. It is complicated because of the many areas and systems involved and it is delicate because of the dynamic relationship among these systems within the environment. Changes that support organizational development goals must consider how relationships among the various systems will be affected as they all are interdependent. An element common to organizations is the need to remain viable. To do so, organizations need to utilize new technologies to gain a competitive advantage. Massive technological changes are apparent in areas including manufacturing processes, computer-assisted design, data transmission, advanced communication links, sophisticated information systems, etc.[1, p. 35]. Organizations are thus profoundly affected by technological advancement. As a result, appropriate change methods and techniques that help individuals and groups make the best use of available technology are needed. Organizational change, with respect to technology, requires a “ﬂexible, customized change model ... examined from a socio-technical basis” which can “be customized to ﬁt the social network of the speciﬁc organization into which [technology] is being introduced”[1, p. 41]. The purpose of this paper will be to explore socio-technical theory in general in terms of design, impact on and inﬂuence of the environment and technology A historical exploration of classi. cal organizational theories of Burns and Stalker, Woodward, Perrow, Thompson, and Trist will follow. STS theory as an organization development activity will be explored in general, and selfregulating work groups as an OD and STS application, in particular. Finally, several pointers for executives and consultants are given in assessing STS interventions.
Management Decision 35/6  452–463 © MCB University Press [ISSN 0021-1747]
A return to the classical socio-technical theory, principles and approaches provides a framework for successful organizational change with respect to technology This the. ory makes major contributions to work redesign for self-regulated work groups and as such is useful for incorporating technological advancement into organizations. A thorough understanding of these basic change principles and approaches is necessary to avoid misuse or partial application of this intervention technique. The organization as well as the consultant can avoid an unsuccessful change programme by thoroughly examining socio-technical theory as a systems approach. Hackman and Oldman suggest...
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