General Systems Theory (GST), commonly referred to Systems Theory, takes the view from the Gestalt Psychologists who "emphasizes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" (Matlin, 2005, p. 6). Adopting GST provides a systematic framework for the field of Human Performance Technology (HPT). Rosenberg, Coscarelli, and Hutchison described the importance of incorporating GST into HPT: "The use of systems, or the systems approach, is essential to HPT. Without a systemic framework, it would be extremely difficult to achieve improved performance" (as cited in Stolovitch & Keeps, 1999, p. 25).
Swanson (2007) explained that GST provides a means of viewing the world as wholes rather than piece-by-piece. Turner (2010) described GST as providing "the assumption of non-summativity where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" (p. 16). The advantage of incorporating systems theory to organizations, as in the approach that HPT takes, is "because of its potential usefulness in understanding the complexities of 'live' organizations" (Kast & Rosenzweig, 1972, p. 449). Deming's system thinking emphasizes between external environments (customers) an internal processes (the inter-correlation of elements) (Wang, 2004). Deming’s systems thinking is designed to provide a proper fit "within the external environment, the dynamic equilibrium between internal processes and their environment should be maintained" (Wang, 2004, p. 395).
Components of GST
"GST provides a method of structuring organizations into different levels of performance" (Turner, 2010, p 16). This structuring of organizations into different levels of performance have been adopted by a number of disciplines including HPT, Human Resource Development (HRD), and Organization Development (OD), to name a few.
Kast and Rosenzweig (1972) suggested that organization's need to address three levels of analysis: the environment, the social organization, and the level of the subsystems. Swanson (2007) identified four levels of performance: organizational, process, work team, and job levels. Rummler and Brache (1995) identifies three levels of performance: organization, process, and job performer levels. These levels of analysis provides an organization to be broken down into its parts for further study.
Kast, F. E., & Rosenzweig, J. E. (1972). General systems theory: Applications for organization and management. The Academy of Management Journal, 15(4) ,447-465.
Matlin, M. W. (2005). Cognition (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Stolovitch, H. D. & Keeps, E. J. (Ed.), (1999). Handbook of human performance technology: Improving individual and organizational performance worldwide (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer.
Swanson, R. A. (2007). Analysis for improving performance: Tools for diagnosing organizations and documenting workplace expertise. San Francisco, CA: Berett-Koehler.
Turner, J. R. (2010). Using feed process as a means of performance improvement in a dynamic environment. Performance Improvement, Vol. 49, No. 8, pp. 15-20. DOI: 10.1002/pfi
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