VARIETY IN SYSTEMS: TOWARDS A THEORY OF ORGANIZATIONS
What is the effect of an organization's structure on its task-performing ability? This is the research problem addressed in the present dissertation. The dissertation offers a theory expressed in an elaborated version of the formalism presented in Ackoff and Emery's "On Purposeful Systems". It is postulated that for such a theory to be truly relevant to organizational design, it should be applicable not just to goal-seeking systems, but also to purposeful systems. The fundamental concept in the theory is that of variety. It is contended that the function of an organizational structure is the formation and integration of variety. The concept of variety offered in the dissertation is a generalization of Ashby's concept. A number of taxonomies is offered of tasks, environments, and organizational structures. These taxonomies form the basis of a set of propositions that postulate which type of organizational structure is the most appropriate one for every combination of task and environment types. It is demonstrated that the theory explains the outcomes of the laboratory experiments carried out by Alex Bavelas and his followers since the early 1950's. These experiments addressed issues concerning the relationship between the communication structure of small organized groups and their task performing ability. Although there was a high degree of consistency of outcome in these experiments, prior to this dissertation no unified explanation has been devised. It is a necssary but insufficient condition for the theory's applicability to real organizations that it can explain the Bavelas experiments. The dissertation is concluded with a discussion of its implications and limitations, and some directions are suggested for future research which could generalize the theory. Three appendices are included in the dissertation. One is a methodological and theoretical review of contingency theory. The second appendix recapitulates the basics of Ackoff and Emery's formalism, while Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety is reviewed in the third appendix. It is concluded that Ashby's law is either a tautology, or that it is simply wrong.
|Year of publication:||
|Authors:||WINTHER, ERIK KOFOD|
|Type of publication:||Other|
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