Paul A. Krasulski
Module 2 Case Assignment: Organizations as Organisms
MGT 501: Management and Organizational Behavior
Dr. Peter Haried
7 February 2011
This paper will compare the military unit (for discussion purposes, the US Military) and the symphony orchestra noting both similarities and differences and the degree to which applying systems thinking helps one understand both. This paper will structure its comparison as follows: parts one and two, the most important system problems of both the military and the symphony, and how each deals with them; part three, the similarities and differences between the two, vis-à-vis their functions as living systems; and finally, concluding with a short critique of the effectiveness of using a systems approach when attempting to understand unfamiliar organizations, such as the virtual university.
Systems and Systems Thinking
What is a system? What is “systems thinking”? McNamara (2006) defines a system as “…an organized collection of parts (or subsystems) that are highly integrated to accomplish an overall goal. Systems range from simple to complex, open to closed; and they greatly influence how we understand and change organizations. Wade (2005) states that systems thinking focuses on the arrangement and relations of (the) parts and pieces (of a system)… … (to the) whole. Pidwirny (2006) tells us that systems are structured, defined by their parts and processes; that they tend to function in the same way; that functionality of the system depends largely upon the relationships of parts and processes within the structure (read: the ability of parts and process to work well together); and, lastly, that they have a driving force (a stated goal or common purpose, as outlined above). It is this basic focus on systems theory and how it relates to organizations that will drive our discussion. Part 1: System Problems of the Military Unit
The United States military, as a living system, has objects (parts, pieces, and elements); well-defined attributes, including clearly defined internal roles and relationships; and, an operating environment in which it must maneuver, to which, it must react. Some of the key components of the “military system” include command and control structures (hierarchies); complex subsystems, in the form of Divisions, Battalions, Squadrons, Fleet, etc…; and communication and feedback mechanisms, in the form of ongoing training. The most important system problems faced by the US Military are integration, implementation and adaptation. Integration is a method of assimilating new elements (i.e.: people, processes and product) into the system. Challenges here include inputs that conflict with standing military doctrine, as well as outputs that must be removed because they lack ability to be readily implemented into the fighting force (e.g.: soldiers who fail initial entry training, or a product that is inferior for combat action, etc…). Implementation, or the application of combat power, includes maximizing combat readiness and effectiveness, through ongoing training and sustainment of military and civilian elements; and effective communication across the various sub-systems that comprise the whole working unit. Challenges here include (but are never limited to) loss of transparency among hierarchies; weak command and control structures; and/or poor communication and feedback, resulting in ambiguity or atrophy among sub-systems. Adaptation is essentially reading one’s environment and making the choice to react. Challenges here include ignorance of environmental influences and/or failure to incorporate new methodology; resulting in systemic obsolescence. Additionally, there is the challenge in an open system of those elements who behave as if the system was closed; as if no actions exist outside of their own boundaries, that their outputs have no effect upon the larger system. They don’t see themselves as a component in a real system;...
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