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Systems approaches for organisational analysis

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to provide a critical discussion of the development of systems thinking and systems methodologies and explain how such approaches can deal with issues of problem complexity and the variety of views, agendas and political positions that the people involved and affected by the problem situation may have. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper examines the different ontological and epistemological assumptions that the various social paradigms are based on and uses social theory in order to explain the development of systems thinking and systems methodologies. Findings ‐ As there is a plethora of relevant systems methodologies, managers will need to understand the philosophical assumptions of different systems approaches, their strengths and weaknesses and how to use them creatively in combination. Viewing the problem situation from a holistic perspective and treating alternative systems approaches as complementary rather than in competition will help managers deal creatively with the complex problems that organisations face. Originality/value ‐ This paper will shed some light on the philosophical assumptions that the various strands of systems thinking are based on and will help managers appreciate the importance of creative holism and the benefits that holistic thinking can bring to their organisation.
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Keywords: Complexity theory; Creative holism; Epistemology; Organizational analysis; Social theories; Systems methodologies; Systems thinking

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 11 October 2011

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