Job design

Open systems approach

The approaches to the design of jobs considered to this point have taken as their focus the individual job. We have already identified some of the weaknesses of this type of approach.

At the same time that job redesign techniques were being developed and implemented in the USA progress was being made, particularly in Europe and Scandinavia, on the development of the socio-technical systems approach where the focus of attention is at the level of the working group and the aim is to develop a match between the needs of the group and the organization in relation to the technology.

Organization as an open system

This approach is based upon the concept of the organization as an open system with the primary work group as a subsystem of the total organization. Organizations can be compared to other living systems such as biological cells in that they are engaged in active transactions with the environment

Raw materials or customers form the input to the organizational system and finished goods or services form the output. The environment through competition, the influence of suppliers, and customers and government legislation will all exert pressure on the organization to comply with certain rules and organize in certain ways. The changing economic situation, changing values in society, new alternative products or services, and many other factors demand adaptation within the organization if it is to survive.

Since these factors have an impact on the internal design and functioning of an organization it is important that the organization be aware of environmental changes when seeking an optimal design of its social and technical systems.

Guiding Principles

A sociotechnical systems approach to designing organizations is based upon a set of guiding propositions:

  • The design of the organization must fit its goals.
  • Employees must be actively involved in designing the structure of the organization.
  • Control of variances in production or service must be undertaken as close to their source as possible.
  • Subsystems must be designed around relatively self-contained and recognizable units of work.
  • Support systems must fit in with the design of the organization.
  • The design should allow for a high quality of working life.
  • Changes should continue to be made as necessary to meet the changing environmental pressures.

Motivation Factors

It has been suggested that four categories of job characteristic are significant in terms of motivation and performance:

  • responsible autonomy- the group's acceptance of responsibility for the production cycle, output rate, quality, and quantity of output;
  • adaptability;
  • variety;
  • participation.

Autonomous behavior includes the self-regulation by the group of work content, critical self-evaluation of work group performance, self-adjustment to cope with changes, and participation in goal setting.


The socio-technical systems approach is not without its limitations. Whilst many advantages can result from focusing on the work group rather than the individuals and their jobs, autonomous group working does not seem to have widespread appeal.

  • Certainly the roles of both supervision and specialist advisers are considerably affected and in some cases eliminated.
  • Movement of personnel between work groups with high levels of autonomy may be difficult, hence removing some of management's flexibility.
  • Difficulties are often experienced in implementation in existing work situations.
  • A participative design process is not acceptable in many organizations and can be very time-consuming.
  • Alternative ways of organizing work are not always apparent where existing technology has to be employed.
  • Management are often not prepared to take the risk of introducing radically different approaches to organizing work alongside other changes which already have a high element of disruption and associated risk.

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