8. The systems philosophy: ‘changing everything’ INTRODUCTION Although it has come in and out of management theory fashion for decades, the systems philosophy has made a significant impact on organizational change thinking and methods. Like many of the philosophies we have considered, systems approaches permeate numerous important theories in and around organizational change. All of these theories have in common the assumption that change cannot be segregated or compartmentalized. When one part of an organization changes there are corresponding implications for others. Systems-thinking change managers seek to understand the entire organization and pursue change across its many facets, aware that even small causes in one area can lead to large effects in others. In this chapter we will examine the assumption that organizational components intertwine in complex and unpredictable ways. Approaching change from a systems philosophy means that the entire organization represents the unit of interest rather than industries, strategy, structure, processes, culture, psychology or any other element that could provide a focus for change. To put it another way, the systems philosophy assumes that organizations are irreducible in that they can only be properly understood as a whole. The systems philosophy emerged in the middle of the twentieth century as scholars from the physical and social sciences began to consider the implications of inter-disciplinary connections. These pioneering theorists thought that general laws describing commonly occurring patterns of behaviour could be identified. As a result, understanding any complex form of organization— what became known as systems—requires the exposition of...
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