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Analyzing Systems Theory

The Systems theory of organizational communication contemplates the evolution of HR theoretical constructs and seemingly views the organization similarly to how classical theories prioritize the organization as a whole. Systems theory metaphorically sees the organization as “complex organisms that must interact with their environment to survive” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 60).

Scholars identify systems-based organizations by their characteristics, which inherently include their processes. Systems metaphors were discovered in biological sciences and engineering thought schools (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 61). Accordingly, identifying a systems-based organization could be achieved through this lens. Applying this logic to the human body would reveal a complex biological system comprised of interdependent parts, some of which could not survive without the other. For instance, it is common knowledge that we cannot survive without oxygen. If our lungs were removed from their system, the system would perish; in direct parallel, scholars have successfully connected systems approaches within the context of the organism metaphor (Morgan, 2006, p. 33).

Where systems interact, we discover the space of the system’s environment. Like a human biological system, a hospital is a complex system that relies on interacting with its environment to survive. The environment can be seen as “anything outside the system boundaries that is relevant to the system” (Lamb, 2023).

While the human biological system could not survive without the lungs, could a hospital system survive without a lab? The hospital system depends on the lab’s information to further the medical decisions of doctors who apply meaning to laboratory findings and serve to enable continued interactions by the system with its environment. Emergence and holism successfully the logic that “systems are more than the sum of their parts” (Lamb, 2023; Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 65).

This causes us to examine organizations from positions that involve consideration of its components and further examine input-throughput-output processes and system properties to varying degrees to understand how the organization “allow[s] information and materials to flow in and out” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 62).

Hospital systems have a high degree of permeability. Information comes in and out: patients arrive and depart. Various interdependent departments offer services, and the fluid context of these exchanges demonstrates that the system relies on exchanges with its environment to survive. The fluidity of permeable boundaries could measure the system’s interactivity in its environment. In this example, closed systems require no interaction with their environment, whereas open systems not only have but require interaction with their environment (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 65)

Following our same thought logic, the patients arriving at the hospital would serve as an example of input; the interactivity between the laboratory, patients, doctors, and nurses could be seen as throughputs, and when patients reenter the systems environment at discharge, we see the system’s output.

Continuing our examination, we see the goals of the hospital organization as serving its inputs as efficiently as possible. However, the hospital’s inputs can be seen across interactions with its environment. For example, the system might interact with its environment through emergent input or a patient arriving at the emergency room. However, the system might also interact with patients requiring non-emergent general surgery. In this case, the system’s inputs serve the same goal but through a different pathway. The varying adaptations of pathways is the notion of equifinality, succinctly summarized by our lecturer as having “multiple ways” to achieve the system’s goal (Lamb, 2023)

We have examined the systems theory of organizational communication from a biological lens. It contemplates the system’s interdependent nature, the system’s requisite interaction with its environment, and the flow of inputs, throughputs, and outputs across the system’s permeable boundaries to discover a functioning system. Logically, one can apply these characteristics to understand and identify organizations that fit this theoretical construct.

Organizational Evolution

In the context of knowledge applied within this course thus far, our lecturer encourages us to consider whether organizations were established to communicate in ways that connect to an overarching theory or whether people communicated to achieve the organization’s formation within a particular theoretical construct studied thus far.

First, to effectively demonstrate logic, a concrete connection to classical, HR, and systems theory may first serve to illustrate the application of communication as constitutive across theoretical constructions. Constitutive communication scholars seek to understand the process “through which our interactions create, re-create, and change” organizations. (Miller & Barbour, 2020, pp. 83–84).

Across all constructs, evidence supports each as being constitutive. Following the logic of our text, the container General Motors could fit within the category of Classical theory, yet even within this context, the container still communicates through inputs and outputs with its environment and is dependent upon its environment for survival. In these contexts, General Motors could arguably fit within each of the three theoretical views considered thus far as its interactions serve to create, re-create, and change the organization.

Furthermore, the degree to which communication within all three theoretical constructs is constitutive can be demonstrated by examining the context of the environment. Where classical approaches tend to take on a machine-like, scientifically driven metaphor where parts of the machine are replaceable, HR and systems approaches lean more toward an organism-like, biologically driven metaphor, highlighting the interactive and interdependent nature of its parts and reliance on its environment, both however highlight that information is flowing.

The flowing information represents constitutive communication because each establishes environments that “create and recreate systems of meaning and understanding” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 83). The Systems theory of organizational communication seems to be the intersection of transformative approaches in theory related to organizational communications.

Within this context of creating and recreating systems of meaning and understanding, we find the definition of constitutive communication. From this perspective, we can further understand the goals and orientations of each theoretical view. Miller & Barbour (2020), together with Morgan (2006), serve as cornerstone scholars who have intimately analyzed each theory’s individual differences and overarching goals.

In our first lecture, we were tasked to demonstrate how we understand the concept of constitutive communication. Based upon that requirement, we differentiated classical and more contemporary, human-focused approaches from a social constructionist view or, more definitively, an approach that attempts to define the perception of reality communication as “an intersubjective construction [of reality] created through communication.” (Miller & Barbour, 2020, p. 83).

The concept and idea of communication creating a social reality for organizations can be demonstrated across contexts and theories. Constitutive communication is seen as establishing communication flow from the top of the GM hierarchy to the manufacturing floor, yet along the way, each department it crosses the communication serves to shape a social reality. If sales are down, perhaps the manufacturing floor is quiet, the employees throw a party – or worse – they receive pink slips. Either way, communication occurs within them and grows around them. Aptly cited chiefly by our lecturer, Manning (2014) posits that “communication is not a mere tool for expressing social reality, but [also] a means of creating it.”

Works Cited

Lamb, M. (2023). Org Comm Thry Rsch.

Miller, K., & Barbour, J. (2020). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes.

Morgan, G. (2006). Nature Intervenes: Organizations As Organisms. Images of Organization. Sage Publications.

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