The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

What got you here

In an article entitled “Real Work” Abraham Zaleznik describes how in the 1930s “researchers, academics, and consultants began to look at business organizations not simply as technical or economic systems but as social systems.”

It’s less than 100 years ago, which is fairly recent, and not much later than the definition of social systems. Its appearance transformed the study of management and has become an aspect of the executive’s work.

In contrast to most organizational structures, social systems are not the result of conscious planning. Social Systems are, as Zaleznik writes, the “result of all the unwritten contracts unwritten contracts that grow up between a company and its employees.” Social systems thus are the nonlogical underpinnings of organizations. They need to be balanced with the logical elements every organization has. Which Zaleznik calls the real work, that is “the work of thinking about and acting on ideas relating to products, markets, and customers.”

However, it is also a tricky field. The study of social systems also sheds light on psychopolitics without being clearly discerned from it. Psychopolitics describes how people seek to achieve a goal by using a variety of psychological techniques or precepts. Which often is how people unconsciously react to power and dependency.

Since then the field of study related to social systems broadened so much. It has become overwhelming and confusing. It once helped us to become aware of the need to attend to the social elements of organizational life. But executives also need to attend to the real work. Caught between the real work and the attention to social systems, psychopolitics often gets the most attention. Maybe because it is disliked, if not feared.

The more attention psychopolitics receive, the less remains available for social systems. They now can become defined through psychopolitics.


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