Mapping Out Socio-Technical Systems


Another problem is presented. A worker gets injured on a subcontractor’s project. We gather around the table to dish out the blame. Everyone wants to point fingers. The project manager blames inadequate funding while the safety engineer cites an ineffective preplanning process. Nothing gets resolved. The issue moves up the line for a senior management decision. There’s a meeting to discuss the matter.  

Someone leads out and says, “What can be done to prevent this problem?” Numerous technical recommendations are offered. Standing up, I state, “Why don’t we ask the workers about this problem? Let’s get them involved so that they can help find the solution.”

The room gets quiet. Finally, one senior manager suggests that we should take money away from the subcontractor, buy new technology, and fire the worker’s supervisor. Everyone agrees. After dealing with this same problem every month, I was hoping for a different answer. I was disappointed again.[1] 

Why do we see managers make the same mistakes over and over and never want the day-to-day workers involved in the process? Executives are then shocked when their employees don’t buy-in on their latest management initiative. One of the reasons organizations do not reach peak performance is because managers do not create socio-technical systems to support organizational values.

With fierce global competition and a need for a market advantage, I found it surprising that managers move toward the quick fixes like downsizing for short term gain without analyzing the organization over the long-term. I am not suggesting that this approach is easy; however, I am declaring that over the long haul, an organization will become a stronger institution in the process. [2]  

The concept of socio-technical systems is very important in a highly competitive environment. Socio-technical systems relate to the reciprocal interrelationship between humans and machines. In fact, the idea explores how both the technical and the social conditions of work interact with efficiency and the human condition.[3]

This interaction satisfies each, but does not compromise the other.  Since the industrial age, researchers have recognized that both technical and social factors impact organizational performance.

Daniel Wren, author of The Evolution of Management Thought, concludes that analyzing a social system gives management an avenue to measure conflict between the “logic of efficiency” demanded  by the formal organization and  the “logic by sentiments” by the informal organization.[4]

In profit hunting, many businesses lose focus of the importance of socio-technical systems. Given precepts, the questions for most managers becomes how to use this scholarly perspective in the practitioner’s avenue where time is money and money is time.  In the following weeks, we will address three practical applications (i.e. value modeling, technology relevancy, and human factor buy-in) so that socio-technical systems within organizations can support its organizational values. 

Discuss the concept of socio-technical systems in today’s organizations.


© 2013 by Daryl D. Green                                                       


[1] “Leading others while supporting organizational values” by Daryl D. Green

[2] “Leading others while supporting organizational values” by Daryl D. Green

[3] “Philosophy of socio-technical systems” by Gunter Ropohl

[4] The Evolution of Management Thought by Daniel Wren


13 thoughts on “Mapping Out Socio-Technical Systems

  1. The concept of socio- technical systems in today’s organization

    In today’s organization the staff is highly dependent on technology to get work done. The use of telephones, computers, printers and credit card machines are just a few of technical systems that most business’ use on a daily basis. When the staff comes into contact with these systems it becomes a socio- technical system as business’ needs staff to operate the technical equipment. Hoffman (2013) in his article states that “a socio- technical system is people and technology blended”. In order for the two to work well the employee s need to be trained to use the technical systems so that they can be productive and fulfill the goals of the organization. Managements’ goal should be to be supportive of staff and act on any problems and listen to the solutions that employees have to offer so that the socio -technical systems can be of good value to the organization.

    Hoffman,P. (2013) Socio- technical Systems and organizational values. Retrieved from

  2. A popular term in progressive companies has been the concept of Work/Life Balance. In a recent article at contributor Ron Ashkenas, asserts that perhaps we are going about this all wrong; that it is not a balancing act but a blending (Ashkenas, 2012). Creating systems that acknowledge the blurred line between work and personal life, will free workers from the stress and guilt of failing at this balancing act whether it is dealing with personal life during work hours or work during personal time (Ashkenas, 2012). Unfortunately the feasibility of this type of blending varies with job and organization. I have this sort of flexibility with my supervisors as do many above the line staff; however, the below the line staff such as editors must be in their workstation for the amount of time booked by the client. This disparity in a benefit can lead to motivation issues over time, “however, [studies] have shown that when teams of interdependent workers…are empowered to create their own plans for how and when to get their work done, productivity improves considerably“ (Ashkenas, 2012).

    Ashkenas, R. (2012, October 19). Forget work-life balance: it’s time for work-life blend [Web log post]. Retrieved

    • Renee,

      Excellent points! You make a good case of connecting socio-technical systems with the ability to empower and motivate the human side of the organizational equation.

      Professor Green

    • I agree that issues surrounding work / life balance is a key component of what makes up a successful socio-technical system. Google I believe can be looked to as a tier one example of an organization that emphasizes the importance of its human talent. Whether it be the various casual atmospheres in which employees have their meetings or the very fact that Google has a Vice President of Workplace Services dedicated to making life for Google employees better, the company does well to make its employees feel valued (google perks, 2007). While it is easier perhaps for some vocations to enjoy a favorable work / life balance than for others, all it takes is an overview of the many innovative ways in which Google increases job satisfaction to see that regardless of job the average work environment can be vastly improved.

      google perks. (2007). Corporate Meetings & Incentives, 26(6), 29.

  3. “Combining social and technical networks has recently become a subject of study. Socio-technical networks encode connections between people, connections between technical artifacts and connections between people and artifacts” (Bird, Nagappan, Gall, Murphy, Devanbu, 2009). I think this relates to generational opinions between the humanistic side and the technical side. For example I would much rather handle business online, whether it is paying bills, making reservations, etc. Just the other day I was trying to reschedule a reservation online and the website was down, so I called the restaurant and the man was extremely rude. All I could think was, “man I wish I could have just done that over the internet”. I think the reason things are becoming more and more technical is because there has been a loss of customer service. People do not value it as much. But some people, like my mother for example would rather handle things while interacting with another human. I think companies want to incorporate the idea of socio-technical networks because there are still people out there who prefer the human connection. And I also think that deep down we want to believe in human connection.

    . Bird, C., Nagappan, N., Gall, H., Murphy, B., & Devanbu, P. (2009, November). Putting it all together: Using socio-technical networks to predict failures. In Software Reliability Engineering, 2009. ISSRE’09. 20th International Symposium on (pp. 109-119). IEEE.

    • Rebekkah,

      Excellent! Customer service? People have forgotten how to be…human and treat people with respect. Is it due to the advancement of technology or what?

      Professor Green

  4. When considering what makes for a successful socio-technical system in the workplace one of the world’s most exceptional examples comes to mind. The Google workplace is well documented to be an environment that brings out the best in its employees. Google emphasizes employee well-being in a number of ways- even going so far as to have a Vice President of Workplace Services (google perks, 2007). This person’s job is to increase the well-being of Google employees as a means of spurring innovation. As a result of Google initiatives, its employees are granted a great deal of independence. By emphasizing the importance of the employee Google is able to maintain an environment of innovation.

    google perks. (2007). Corporate Meetings & Incentives, 26(6), 29.

  5. A socio-technical system is an approach to a complex work design for organizations that recognizes the interaction between people and technology in the workplace. Every organization is consists of people (the social system) using tools, techniques and knowledge (the technical system) to produce goods and services valued by customers who are part of the external environment. How well an organization’s social and technical systems are designed to meet the needs of the external system largely determines how effective it will be.
    In today’s organizations, socio-technical systems are used to connect people socially, for example through email, electronic markets, blogs, and so forth. Increased use of software systems in daily life results in even stronger integration of human and system tasks. Socio-technical systems’ requirements change over time caused by a variety of factors, broadly classified as changes in operational environment, in the organization within which the system is used, and in the user’s needs (Eason, 2008, p.7). Today’s organizations must be able to manage these changes that emerge, particularly the general problem of software evolution.

    Eason, Ken (2008), Sociotechnical systems theory in the 21st century: Another half-filled glass? Sense in Social Science, 7. Retrieved on March 28, 2013 from

  6. Socio-technical systems is the interaction of people and technology in the work place. One example is distance learning or online course study. There is such a widespread adoption of “ computer-based distance education as a mission-critical component of the institutions educational program” (Jianfeng, 2010, p. 4). With this being said I feel this is the perfect example of socio-technical systems providing an extra profit source for schools that need these extra funds due to recent cuts in funding.

    Jianfeng, W., Solan, D., & Ghods, A. (2010). Distance learning success – a perspective from socio-technical systems theory. Behaviour & Information Technology, 29(3), 321-329. doi:10.1080/01449290903544645

  7. I agree that company’s should be sure to involve socio technical systems in their strategic planning for the future. Simply focusing on either the social or the technical (or more specifically, technological) aspect of an organization alone will not allow the company to optimize its use of resources. Being profitable is ultimately the goal of every organization, so a company should not develop its socio-technical systems for any other reason than that it can enable it to increase profits. Another key goal of any organization is to be able to sustain their profitability over the long run, which is where socio-technical systems become even more valuable.
    This concept is essentially the merging of the classical and humanistic management perspectives. On one hand it is a practical approach to making an organization as efficient as possible, while it is also emphasizes the importance of understanding human behavior in becoming profitable (Daft, 2012).
    Daft, R (2012). Management (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill-Irwin.

  8. The sociotechnical systems (STS) approach is devoted to the effective blending of both the technical and social systems of an organization. These two aspects must be considered interdependently, because arrangements that are optimal for one may not be optimal for the other and trade-offs are often required.
    I believe, that in order for an organization to be successful, it must utilize every aspect afforded to them. Companies must compete in the current market thereby utilizing every modern method at their disposal. Technological advances will assist in increasing market shares.

    Sociotechnical System Principles and Guidelines: Past and Present
    William M. Fox

  9. If a company is to have a successful business environment, it needs to have a good balance of the socio-technical systems. Like Jenelle said earlier in the blog, business are depend on the technology facet of the socio-technical systems, with the way everything is run these days a company cannot survive with the proper technologies backing their operations. But along with that, there has to be a balance of the human factor as well. Unfortunately some companies think the best equation is to get rid of employees, the more the technology advances, but the human factor is what generates sales and data. In the blog, the executives are having a problem finding a balance in the socio-technical systems and as a result they are running into organizational problems and are unable to come up with a balanced approach to fixing it. “The successful implementation of a socio-technical system depends on a total systems approach. Therefore, both the primary work system and all support systems must be designed with the same goals and values in mind. Management systems such as finance, engineering, industrial relations and personnel must be designed to support the semi-autonomous work groups” (anonymous, 2005).
    A balanced socio-technical approach in an organization is key for a competitive environment.

    anonymous (2005, July 01). Socio-technical systems. Retrieved from,d.eWU

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