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Rational, Natural and Open Systems

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Organizations refer to social entities that are goal-oriented, well structured and coordinated structures and systems that are connected to the environment (external) but with identifiable boundaries hence they pervade the lives of people in the modern industrialized societies. They are at a nation’s heart since they are means through which it can bring a difference to society and be able to accomplish collective goals as these organizations are always committed to stretching the vision and create new horizons for opportunities that are also responsible for shaping the minds, motivating, and bringing people together to accomplish collective goals. To appreciate the value that organizations bring to society, it’s vital to understand the organizational perspectives as described by Richard Scott hence this paper discusses the comparison and contrast of the rational, natural and the open organizational paradigm systems.


As far as rational system is concerned, the organization specializes in accomplishing specific solid goals and follows the written rules and formal roles that help discover the optimum goals hence the organization is characterized by its distinctive formal establishment for explicit purpose of achieving specific goals (Blau). For instance an organization establish to empower women in society like United Women Group, indicates that the mental, emotional, physical energies and resources are focused on providing support systems to enable women to come together and feel empowered.

Organizations are rational instruments designed to achieve specific goals from the rational perspective and the aims is to attain efficiency/optimization with help of accurate information designed to help action implementation. The organization depend on rules/directives/constraints/jurisdictions/coordination or performance programs to achieve goal specificity and formalization (Galbraith, 1974).

Rational Schools

The early management theorists emphasized the need for rational perspective since organizations were viewed as purposeful and deliberate and they include the scientific management school by Taylor who focused on utilizing time and motion studies to increase productivity and optimize work procedures. Fayol, in his administrative theory developed general guidelines on formalizing relationships and structures in organizations. The bureaucratic theory developed through rational legal authority by Marx Weber is becoming principal organizational structure in the modern society while the rational decision-making theory by Simon clarifies the processes by which goal specific and formalization contribute to rational behavior in organizations through a focus on decision making objectives.

Weber and Fayol focused on structural level attempting to analyze and conceptualize the organizational characteristics, while Simon and Taylor operated majorly on social level focusing on individual decisions/actions hence the rational schools tend to emphasize on the rationality of the structure itself and not of the people in it i.e. they ignored the organization’s actual behavior (Galbraith, 1974).

In an organization, as argued by rational theorist, an abstract case should made to incorporate rational emotive paradigm within an organization that should consist of interconnected components including organizational goals, effectiveness training management, employee and family assistance programs, and the staff effectiveness training hence these roles explain the importance of rational paradigm since the attributes, characteristics, and employee traits are postulated and the advantages to the organization is also identified (Albert).

The open, rational as well as natural systems the perspective operates as the  function as the Kuhn’s model hence cannot be a subject of verification since they all (i.e. the three) co-exist together and each methodology accepted based on its different rhetoric and attempts have been made to integrate them together. There exist inevitable conflict between managers and workers as emphasized by the Etzioni’s structuralism model and sees the natural and rational perspectives as antagonists and is also noted by Lorsch and Lawrence’s paradigm of contingency i.e. the natural and rational perspectives center entirely on diverse organizational forms which are adopted to dissimilar environments whereas the Thompson’s levels theory observes that the three models apply to different organizations in varying levels hence, he recommends that the natural perspective is ideal to the managerial level, open to the institutional level, while the rational perspective to the technical level (Galbraith, 1974).

Perspective classification

Scott, in his documented works proposed a cross-classified closed/open and natural/rational perspectives typology, besides, the diverse organizational research approaches also apply at different levels including the structural, ecological and social psychological while the closed system approaches are at structural and social psychological stages, and the injection of open system model was an addition to an ecological model. The first kind is the closed rational system models which portray organizations as tools that largely ignore the environmental impacts and used only to achieving targeted ends and the involved theorists are Taylor, Simon, Weber, and Fayol.

The second type entails the closed natural system models that mostly are from the human associations group and focus on organizational actions (that are internal) as developed by Whyte, Roy and Bernard.  The third category which is the open rational approach introduced in the late 1940s by Simon which has stimulated multiple theories development established on psychological, sociological as well as economical backgrounds and includes agency theory, bounded rationality, comparative model, contingency model, transaction cost analysis and the structural analysis. Finally, the fourth type refers to the open natural models that have recently dominated the market since 1960s, and they challenge the idea that organizations act rationally and include the Organizing theory developed by Weick. Other theories that he developed on this include the organizational learning, socio-technical systems, negotiated order, population ecology, strategic contingency, Marxist theory, resource dependency, institutional theory and the postmodernism (Jones, 2004).

Environmental Conceptions

Researchers recognize that environment influences organizational behavior strongly since there are several conceptions and definitions of environments, hence according to Hall and Fagen (1956), the environment  can be defined as a set of objects in which a slight change in characteristics affect the system and comprise those objects whose features are changed by the system behavior. The groupings in organizations, as noted by Scott, indicate that there are four common groupings as per the research and include the ecological stages, organization populations, organization sets, a functional organization and a real organizational fields. The environment and the organizational fields evolve in the fullness of time since organizations may forge temporary alliances with other firms for specified purposes, though they compete in other areas (Katz, 1976).

Environmental Typologies

Different researchers have come up with varying typologies with the major aim of depicting organizational environment like Trist and Emery have classified them by the extent of intertwined relations, Warren’s typology dwells on decision-making structure while Scott and Meyer have defined two forms i.e. institutional and technical organizational environments.

Objective vs. Subjective Environmental Definitions

Lawrence, Lorsch & Weick (1979) suggested that its better to base environmental definition on the participants’ perceptions and that they should enact their environments, selectively modifying and perceiving their environment. March added that organizations should, through defining the structure of attention, describing connection distribution among types of information, individuals, problem distribution and the decision rules hence, its difficult to separate the objective and subjective environmental characterizations (Scott, 2007).

Environments and Organizations

Resource and contingency dependency theorists observes that organizations should adapt to environmental alterations, while the ecologists on population put more emphasis on structural inertia that avoids adaptation hence most favorable organizational forms should be selected while less optimal ones discarded but organizations also can take part in environmental enhancement by advertising, building contracts, lobbying, mergers, etc and can also change their diversification and product mixes. The organizations should absorb part of their environment by returning part of their organization to environment i.e. outsourcing or through vertical integration hence all these make definition of boundaries difficult.

The modern organizational environments are increasingly becoming complex/ evolving due to technical changes hence uncertainty also increases and need for both internal and external induced changes on structures of governance structures and technical changes in order to reduce uncertainty.


These are systems or collectives whose participants are pursuing multiple interests both common and disparate but they recognize the value of perpetuating the organization as vital resource and Scotts argues that the participants’ behavior is not guided by formal roles and written regulations stated by organization, instead, their interests guide individual participant’s behavior though they do not consider organization important to accomplish their interests. An example is the non-profit organizations that has no dues involved to become an active member and their constitution states that to be a member, one should complete at least five hours of community service and one is always welcome for periodic meetings hence they have open door policy that allow members to participate not because they have to.

During pre-modern times, organizations’ participants were completely contained in their organizations, who had absolute authority over them and their interest and rights are determined by their membership and were built on strict hierarchy, but over time both individuals and corporate stakeholders have gained rights to pursue own interests too These new corporate players have now contained the resources invested by stakeholders/owners and no longer contained their own individual interests and are partially involved, hence this trend has created an individualism surgency that has coincided with the development of paradigm organization approaches. The societal factors that have favored organizations development postulates that the capability to develop special purpose organizations by the populace is affected by literacy, urbanization, money economy, specialized/advanced education, political revolutions etc (Stinchcombe, 1965). It is also determined by resource competition, institutional differentiations, achievement/roles allocation etc (Parsons).

The rational paradigm perspective stresses that organizations are initiated to improve effectiveness and efficiency through reduced transaction costs, labor division, increased efficiency in processing information, and improved effectiveness in agents monitoring, hence from this perspective firms arise to benefit from the economies of production that are presented by elaborate labor division and also by being able to meet cognitive and control hiccups caused by uncertain and complex environment. Institutionalists argue that firms emerge as a result of rationalized belief (systems) embodiment that propagate in the society as far as the natural paradigm system is concerned while the Marxists propose that capitalists created structures to expropriate surplus value/resources from the productive labor which later emerged as organizations, however, all the involved parties concur that industrialization has resulted in growth of large corporations/organizations. The collective resource mobilization in pursuit of goals has made organizations to emerge hence, how an organization is structured is partly due to its original incentives, resource mix, demographics of membership, ability to acquire resources etc (Peters, 1988).

The features relevant to organization production systems are referred to as the task environment, and the competitive strategists, resource dependency theorists and also the population ecologists and transaction cost, have examined how organizations built their environments to ensure their survival as well as their maximization of the environmental control. Organizations should identify their domain and negotiate with other parties to gain legitimacy in conducting transactions, and involve defining target consumer and product differentiation being the key competitive strategies. Additionally, they must determine the scope of their activities and their degree of vertical integration like the buy-or-make decisions that determine their technical boundaries.

The Resource dependency theorists argue that incorporations engage in two principal strategies to manage their task environments, by first, protecting their technical foundation from environmental instability by initiating strategies and by also flexing their boundaries to control and to accommodate/encompass less or more of their environment through exchange partners, regulators, competitors and through bridging strategies between organizations.

The ideas about technical environment are more developed than the ideas about the institutional environments, and the differences between the two entails, the fact that whereas the firms are comprised of elements sourced from their environments (institutional), organizations still exchange elements with their technical environments, hence the institutional elements are often utilized, secured, and copied without a lot transformation while the elements (technical) are habitually modified, secured, transformed and combined in organizations.

Natural systems transforms the rational mean-ends into ends themselves and forms of organizational structures as it moves forward through the complexity theory evolution. Scott (2003) gives a definition about natural systems as the organization collectivities whose principal participants are pursuing their varying multiple interests and goals, both being common and disparate, but recognizing the value of perpetuating the organization as a vital resource and that the informal relationships that emanate/develop among the participants is more essential and influential in guiding participants’ behavior than even the formal organizational structures (Meyers, 1914).

The two principal divergent versions that are supported in literature to describe the natural systems are the social conflict models and the social consensus views (Scott, 2003). The social consensus view emphasizes a view of collectivities as compromised of individuals sharing primarily common objectives, and with the contrast social conflict view, the order results from the suppression of certain interests by third parties, hence the order results not from consensus, but from coercion, the dominance by the powerful groups on the weaker occurs. The three main distinctive characteristics of the natural systems are the informal structures, functional analysis and the goal complexity.

An example is the integrated natural management of resources, which aims to increase production in agriculture in tropical nations in a manner that is sustainable hence an integrated natural system/NRM of resource management should be combined with traditional approaches of germplasm improvement. Therefore, the organizational/ theoretical framework that underlie this approach is based on ecosystem hierarchy and the natural capital concepts that highlights the role of natural capital in provision of services to ecosystems like water, nutrients, which can be reduced or lost due to intensive agricultural practices. The principal components of the agenda of NRM (integrated) should be explored explored, and research conducted by interdisciplinary teams involving the social scientists, ecologists, economists etc. Hence, under the natural perspectives, the formal rules and regulations often don’t shape individual or organizations actions (Scott, 2004), rather, these organizations are seeking to avoid goal setting and to remove formalization. Hence Scott defined organizations using the natural paradigm as collectivities whose individual participants share common interest in system survival and engage in activities collectively to secure individual goals using the informal organizational structures.


This is a system of interdependent activities that link shifting coalitions of participants and its embedded independent on continuing exchanges which are constituted by the environment it operates hence its dependent on bargains and exchanges and is representatives of a given structure. It believes that the surrounding environment has an effect on the organization hence connection between the environment and participants exist for instance the surrounding environment that the United Women Executive Board Members are providing for the General Body Members would shape most of their activities/actions e.g. whenever more board members are wiling and excited to participate in community activity taking place at 7.00 am on a Saturday morning, hence larger number of members would sign up. Also whenever executive members are giving their reports on coming activities, the more enthusiastic they are about the report, the more highly motivated to participant that the members are going to be.

Open systems, recognizing the environmental importance, takes its principal inspiration from two main movements from Atlantic sides (Morgan, 1986), firstly from Vienna, Ludwig Von Bertalanffy’s GST i.e. General Systems Theory (1951) application to natural sciences, and secondly from England, Kenneth Boulding’s GST application to economics and later in US, Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn’s the social psychology of organizations (1966) which postulates the elements of organizations as open systems hence Scott (2003), defines open systems as organizations that are interdependent with activities and flows that link shifting of coalitions of participation embedded in widespread institutional environment and material resources.

The characteristics of open systems as identified by Scott include the that fact they are less concerned with distinguishing informal from formal organizational structures and instead, view organizations as systems of interdependent activities. It also believes that these interdependent activities are continuously motivated and thirdly, believes in the importance of cultural cognitive elements in the organizations structures construction. Kahn and Katz (1966) described and listed the nine open system characteristics and entails the energy importance, the output, the through-put, the negative entropy, the cycles of events systems, information input, the coding process, the negative feedback, the dynamic homeostasis, the steady state, the equifinality and finally the differentiation. The table below, as adopted by Somers and Schneider (2006), contrasts the complex systems properties from the open systems properties, and is from Kahn and Katz (1978):

Table 1
Comparison of properties of open and complex systems
Properties of open systems Properties of complex systems
(1) Importation Energy is imported from the environment. (1) Importation of Energy is imported from the environment.
of energy   energy  
(2) Throughput Inputs are converted through the use of energy. (2) Throughput Inputs are converted through the use of energy.
(3) Output Produced output is exported into the (3) Output Produced output is exported into the
  Environment.   Environment.
(4) Cyclicality System events are structured by cycles. (4) Chaos CAS are poised systems that function at the
      edge of chaos for optimal buffering and
(5) Negative entropy The transformation cycle is a cycle of entropy, (5) Emergence Some activity occurs that is not induced by the
  Leading to disorganization or death. To survive,   environment, but instead, results from the inter-
  negative entropy is acquired by storing energy   Dependence of system components.
  From the environment.    
(6) Information Inputs consist of information and signals about (6) Information The interactions of system agents or elements
input, negative the environment and system functioning, as input, negative with one another are need-based, bottom–up,
feedback, and the Well as materials that is transformed. Negative feedback, and the and emergent, and are associated with the
coding process Feedback allows for necessary correction. coding process presence of catalysts and feedback
  Information must be coded appropriately to be   mechanisms.
(7) Steady-state and The basic principle is the preservation of the (7) Adaptation The basic principles are preservation and
dynamic Character of the system. In countering entropy,   Adaptation of the character of the system.
homeostasis systems move toward growth and expansion, as    
  they tend to import more energy than is    
(8) Differentiation There is movement toward greater (8) Differentiation N (the number of sub-units) blends with the
  Differentiation, specialization, and elaboration.   intra-system variables K and P and the inter-
      System variable C to achieve a poised system.
(9) Integration and Greater integration and coordination are (9) Integration and The intra-system variables K and P blend with
coordination necessary to counter the tendency toward coordination N and the inter-system variable C to achieve a
  Greater differentiation.   Poised system.
(10) Equifinality The same final state can be reached from (10) Path Unique final states may be reached due to
  Differing conditions and a variety of paths. Dependence Sensitivity to initial conditions.

As adapted from Kahn & Katz (1978).

The three schools of thought that exemplify the open systems approach include contingency theory, Weick’s model of organizing and the systems design theory (Scott, 2003) with the contingency theory being arguably the most appreciated/recognized of the schools above and was coined by Lorch and Lawrence, which stresses that open perspectives create/initiate uncertainty in organization environment and offers organizations both opportunities and constraints to utilize the resources of the organization in most efficient manner. Two assumptions concerning contingency theory have been made by Jay Galbraith; the first one argues that there is no one known and best way to organize, however, any way of organizing is not equally perfect and effective. Boulding’s and Bertalanffy’s principles on GST within open perspectives/systems of capital economy have also been presented as Complex Adaptive System.


These perspective systems entail diverse views of organizations that emphasize the different organizational sides having rational systems focusing on formal set goals and rules, the natural system views organizations as social systems that participants are pursuing to achieve their multiple objectives while the open system views organizations as coalitions of participants with various interests influenced by the environment hence they all help people understand and analyze organizations.

References and bibliographies 

Galbraith, J. R. (1974). Organization design: an information processing view. The institute of Management Science, 4(3), 28.

Jones, G. R. (2004). Organizational theory, design and change (4th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Prentice Hall.

Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1976). The social psychology of organizations. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Meyers, G. (1914).The Science of Management. In C. B. Thompson (Eds.), Scientific Management Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Peters, T. (1988), Thriving on Chaos, Handbook for a Management Revolution. New York: Knopf.

Scott, W. R., & Davis, G. F. (2007). Organizations and organizing rational, natural and open system perspectives. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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