Interview: Decisions in System Theory

Published by on 4. Jan 2017 in category Concepts, Consulting
Interview: Decisions in System Theory

Guest Prof. Robert A. Sedlák was interviewed on the topic of “The role of decisions in the system theory”. This interview highlights the scientific approach of Mr. Sedlák as well as his successful procedure when it comes to enabling sustainable changes within organizations.


Which role does the subject “decisions” have in system theory?

Guest Professor Robert A. Sedlák:

In system theory terms, we believe that organizations are not tangible but are complex social systems, which come into being through processes of communication and are kept alive through them. In this sense, communication is an event which takes place and ends again. Without follow-up communication, a social system would cease to exist. We assume that the decision is the most important communicative event of an organization.

When are decisions necessary?

When there is knowledge and lack of knowledge at the same time. A decision can only be made when different alternatives exist. With a decision, I opt for a presumed future. We are pretending that the future is certain. After the decision, things continue until another decision has to be made.

Why has the system theory a rather critical view on the belief: “Once the Management Board has decided, everything should run well.”?

After each decision, subsequent decisions must be made. Only when subsequent decisions are made in terms of the initial decision, one can speak of an effective decision. Yet, we know that many subsequent decisions in organizations are not made with regard to the management decisions – and thus, do not follow the initial intention.
This provides management with particular challenges.

From a system theoretical perspective, does it make a difference, whether decisions are made by individuals (e.g. executives) or by teams?

First of all, it is important that subsequent decisions are made with regard to the management decision – only then we can speak of a decision in system theory terms. Nowadays, complexity often overwhelms individuals. Therefore, executives are very well advised to involve key players and experts into the process of opinion-forming, to then make smart decisions.

Why do organizations often behave exactly opposed to the actually agreed upon decision?

If decisions are not understood, it often leads to follow-up decisions, which run into a different direction. In that case, the intelligence of the system shouldn’t be underestimated. Furthermore, each decision is given a meaning – does it make sense or is it non-sense. And then it happens…

In addition, I would like to remind that organizations are self-organizing systems. This has to do with obstinacy and unpredictability. Managers are well advised to take the intrinsic logic of organizations into account for decision-making processes and to observe its impacts.

From the perspective of the system theory, which role should the management and executives assume regarding decisions?

I would firstly like to state that every manager is a part of the systems and any steering impulse also affects the management itself. Organizations steer like the management steers and vice versa. This means that the manner in which the decision-making processes are designed significantly influences the quality of the decision. It additionally influences the processes of the subsequent decisions and thus the quality of further decisions. Therefore, management either creates opportunities or prevents them.

Lässt Given that organizations are so complex, can actually anything be decided, which would make a difference for the organization?

We can assume it. If the management decides to close down operations, it makes a difference. As already pointed out: you can decide a lot. The question is whether the closing down of the facility will take place. In my consulting practice, I have often observed that management started with a tiger and ended up with a bedside rug. This is an indication for a decision-making process, which did not go well.

Which recommendation can the system theory give, so organizations can make smart decisions?

We speak of decision premises, which implicitly or explicitly exist in organizations and which the management can influence. They include communication structures, programs (if…then or in order to … ) or people and determine subsequent decisions. Executives are well advised to look at these decision premises and to verify whether these are still adequate (2nd order observation). Additionally, the process and the platforms for how and where decisions are made play an important role. Executives should be self-reflexive to see which decision type they represent. We are well advised to seriously consider the latest findings in brain research and use both the mind and the emotional experience memory when making decisions.

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