i. A Systems Model of Human Organisation (Part 3)

A Systems Model of Human Organisation (Part 3)

This post is the final part of the article posted over the last two weeks. Due to its length, I have split the article down into three posts, but if you would like to read it in one sitting a copy can be downloaded here


The components of an organisation have designated functions and act together to achieve its overall purpose. Organisations which have evolved frequently contain redundant components which compete with one another. Although this competition leads to inefficiencies, redundancy does make an organisation more resilient. Furthermore, competition, if positive, can reveal which component is best suited to a role. Because we aim for efficiency, an organisation which has been designed rarely contains redundancies. It is also the case that subsequent design often eliminates them, but there is of course, a downside.

This also applies to the command component. In some cases, there is redundancy of potential command, i.e., alternative command components that can step in when necessary. In other cases, there is none. In a democracy for example, there is considerable redundancy of potential command in the form of political parties and much competition between them. However, this allows the selection of a command style suited to the circumstances, or the replacement of an ineffective one. In an authoritarian state or other organisation, there is often little redundancy of potential command. This makes the organisation less adaptable to changing circumstances.

Top-down & Bottom-up Representation

The command component of an organisation may comprise individuals selected by:

  • the individual who ultimately leads that organisation; or by
  • the command component of a parent or grandparent organisation.

This is top-down representation. Alternatively, it may comprise individuals selected by those in a subordinate position, i.e., bottom-up representation. There are advantages and disadvantages in both methods. The former permits greater focus on the objectives of the relevant parent organisation, but this focus can be redirected in the personal interest of the leadership. The latter allows greater flexibility in selecting the appropriate command style for the prevailing circumstances but can result in a focus on the personal objectives of subordinates. Ideally, therefore, those who populate command components should be selected by negotiation between the two interests.

Decision Making Style

The decision-making style of a command component can vary on a scale from consultative to authoritarian. The consultative approach yields the best decisions, albeit more slowly and with greater effort. However, consultative leaders can become authoritarian for two main reasons.

  • Out of efficiency. It is quicker and easier to issue instructions than to consult and negotiate.
  • To resist replacement. Leaders have their own personal goals, as well as the goals of the organisation in mind. They may rely on status to achieve the former which can conflict with the latter. In resisting replacement, they may provide misinformation to sub-ordinates, select supportive subordinates, and engage in negative competition with potential rivals. In the case of government, a new human right may be a way of preventing top-down misinformation.

Finally, a style of command can become established in the culture of an organisation, whether a business or a nation. Once established, there is a tendency for the organisation to revert to it after a change in command, i.e., command style can be subject to homeostasis.

Use of the Model

This model can be used to understand human interactions in specific circumstances. Owing to complexity, it is not able to predict those interactions, however. It can also be used to identify behavioural changes which might lead to social improvements, such as the prevention of conflict and the alleviation of poverty.

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