Sociotechnical systems design is not new. It originated at London's Tavistock Institute around 1950 and was pioneered in America in the late 1960's and early 1970's by General Foods at its Topeka, Kansas plant and Procter and Gamble at its Lima, Ohio facility. From the early days of experimentation in London and Norway, no other method of organisation development has proven as successful in improving bottom-line organisational effectiveness while also paying attention to human values (Pasmore, 1988). The aim of this report is to examine the literature on socio technical systems theory, and highlight its importance as a form of organisation re-design.
There is confusion today about what 'socio-technical' means. The term was coined in 1949 to describe a unit of analysis. Rather than the separate analysis of the technical and social systems, the new approach looks in detail at both and the relationships between them (Emery, M. 1993). This approach looks at a whole system as opposed to others which may look at factors in isolation.
Davis (1974) says that Sociotechnical theory rests on two premises. The first is in any purposive organisation, the desired output is achieved through the actions of a social as well as a technical system. These systems are so interlocked that the joint optimisation of the two becomes critical for the desired output. This is a key variance from other models - where the social is dependent upon the technical. The aspect of joint optimisation is critical also, in that it is impossible to optimise for overall performance without seeking to optimise jointly the correlative but independent system. The second premise is that every sociotechnical system is embedded in an environment that is influenced by a culture and its values. In essence, one must understand the impact of environmental forces and as such view sociotechnical systems as part of the larger body of open system theories.