Systems Theory

Ludwig Von Bertalanffy introduced general system theory several decades age in an attempt to present concepts that would be applicable across disciplines and would be applicable to all systems. The theory was one of wholeness, proposing that the whole is more than the sum of parts; the system itself can be explained only as a totality. Holism is the opposite of elementarism, which views the total as the sum of its individual parts.

A system may be defined as "sets of elements standing in interrelation". All systems have elements in common. Societies, automobiles, human bodies and hospitals are system The theory of open system is part of a general system theory; An open system is defined as a "system in exchange of matter with its environment, presenting import and export, building up and breaking down of its material components. Open systems theory emphasizes the relationship between a system and its environment and the interrelationships of different levels of system (Katz & Kahn, 1996, p.3).

Systems are either closed or open. Closed systems are self-contained and usually can only be found in the physical sciences. This perspective has little relevance for the study of organizations. The open system perspective recognizes the interaction of the system with its environment. Katz and Kahn outline 10 characteristics that are common to all open systems. Understanding these characteristics helps one to conceptually understand how organizations function.

The first characteristic is input, or importation of energy. Open systems import forms of energy from the external environment. As, the human cell receives oxygen and nourishment from the blood stream, and organization receives capital, human resources, material, or energy (e.g. electricity) from its environment.

The second characteristic is through put, in which open systems transform the energy and materials. Just as the human cell transforms nourishment into structure, an origination can create a new product, process materials, train people, or provide a service. The third characteristic is output. Open systems export some product a manufactured substance, an inquiring mind, or a well body into the environment. Fourth, an organizations throughput works as a system of cyclic events. Organizational activities occur over and over again in a self-closing cycle, as the material that is input is transformed by throughput and results in output.
System-boundaries-it follows that systems have boundaries, which separate them from their environments. The concept of boundaries helps us understand the distinction between open and closed systems. The relatively closed system has rigid, impenetrable boundaries; where as the open system has permeable boundaries between itself and a broader supra system. Boundaries are relatively easily defined in physical and biological systems, but are very difficult to delineate in social systems such as organizations.

The fifth open system characteristic is negative entropy. To survive, open systems must reverse the entropic process, they must acquire entropy. The entropic process is the universal law of nature in which all forms of organization move toward disorganization or death" (Katz & Kahn, 1966). In order to arrest entropy and be transformed into negative entropy, a process of transformation with continuous up dates or changes in the organization is necessary. The outside forces and governmental agencies (importing resources from its environment) supply major financial support to fuel the system's ongoing functions and continue operational processes.

The six characteristic of an open system is information input: the feedback and coding process. Every organization must take in information and feedback from the environment, code that information, and then store it so it can be used to predict the environment. Negative feedback is the type of input that allows the system to identify deviations in its functioning processes. Feedback enables the organization to maintain a steady state, the seventh characteristic of an open system.
Sometimes called homeostasis, a steady state refers to the ability and desire of an organization to maintain some constancy in energy exchange. Just as the human body stays in a steady state, with no significant variation in its size and mass over time, so an organization attempts to stay in a steady state. This is acquired through avoidance of entropy.

The eighth characteristic is differentiation, which occurs with growth of the organization.
This requires multiplication and changes in established roles with new knowledge and expansion of expertise. This activity must create a constant flow of energy exchange as each member also continuously adapts to new functional changes. As a result, integration and coordination are achieved. This process leads to the establishment of a new organizational structure. The last characteristic of an open system is equi-finality: The principle that any final goal or end can be reached by a variety of means. As open systems move and develop within their environment, they may set different goals at different times and choose different methods to attain them, but the ultimate goal of any open system is survival. The adaptability of humans for survival represents equi-finality.
The total nursing management process and each management functions can be preserved as a system consisting of several inputs, one or more throughput processes, numerous outputs, and multiple feedback processes between outputs and throughput, output and inputs, and throughput and inputs. When management malfunctions, in the major system or a subsystem, analysis of the interrelationships among system elements will usually reveal imbalances, obstruction of some point in the system. Usually, when the cause for system malfunction is accurately diagnosed, the problem can be eliminated or relieved by appropriate managerial interventions.

Organizational Structure
An organization is a group of people working together, under formal and informal rules of behavior, to achieve a common purpose. Organization also refers to the procedures, policies, and methods involved in achieving this common purpose. Thus, organization is both a structure and a process. Organizational structure refers to the lines of authority, communication, and delegation; can be formal or informal. Organizational process refers to the methods used to achieve organizational goals. An organization's formal structure is depicted in its organizational chart that provides a "blueprint," depicting formal relations, functions and activities.

The principal purpose for defining the organization diagram is to clarify chain of command, span of control, official communication channels, and linkage for all department personnel. It is customary to show formal organization structure in a diagrammatic form with a three dimensional model having depth, height and width. Boxes containing various position titles are positioned vertically to highlight differences in status and responsibility. Position boxes are connected with lines to demonstrate the flow of communication and authority throughout the entire network. Different types of interconnecting lines signify different types of relation ships.

For example, a solid line between two positions, indicate direct authority or command giving relationship. A dashed line or broken or dotted line indicates a consulting relationship with no prescribed frequency of the structure to collaborate for planning or control purpose. Commands do not flow.

The primary significance of formal organization structure is the frequency of communication between particular staff members. Particular worker is expected to relate directly with certain individuals and not others. For instance, the Nursing director must give direction to and receive reports from vice-director or supervisors and not others. In this sense, the formal organization structure restrains worker behavior.

The organization chart does not show the degree of authority that a manager has over subordinates. A manager with authority of head nurse may lack authority to hire or fire the worker.
Every organization also has an informal structure, characterized by unspoken, often covert, lines of communication and authority relationships not depicted in the organizational chart. The informal structure develops to meet individuals' needs for friendship, a sense of belonging, and power. The lines of communication in the informal structure (commonly termed "the grapevine") are concerned mainly with social issues. Persons with access to vital information can become powerful in the informal structure. Some administrators try to hinder the effects of informal organization because they facilitate the passing of information. The information may be rumor, but the best way to combat rumor is by free flow of truthful information. The informal organization can help to serve the goals of the formal organization if it is not made the servant of administration. It should not be controlled. A major shortcoming in its use is that not all employees are part of the informal organization.

Organizational characteristics
Span of control - refers to the number of employees a manager can effectively oversee. Mostly top executive cannot manage as many employees’ managers at lower levels. Theoretically, A 1:3 supervisory ratio is common at the top of an organization; a 1:6 ratio is common at the middle; and a 1:20 or larger ratio is common at the base.

The effective span of control for each manager depends on work pace and pattern of workers skill and knowledge, the amount of work in interdependence. The top executive must supervise managers of different specialties; although mid level and first level managers supervise workers in the same specialty that performs similar tasks often in a common work area.
When span of control is too broad, the manager has insufficient time to observe and cannot evaluate performance or give feed back. On the other hand, too narrow span of control has time to supervise each one closely, and too close supervision discourages subordinates problem solving independent judgment and creative thinking. Research shows that worker productivity is higher when close supervision is impossible.

Organizational Principles

·        The principle of unity of Command: An employee may interact with many individuals in the course of the work but should be responsible to only one supervisor.
·        The principle of Requisite Authority: when responsibility for a particular task is delegated to a subordinate, subordinate must also be given authority over resources needed for task accomplishment.
·        The Principle of Continuing Responsibility: When a manager delegates a function to a subordinate, the manager's responsibility for that function is in no way diminished.
·        The Principle of Organizational Centrality: Workers who interact with the greatest number of other workers receive greatest amount of work related information and become most powerful in organizational structure.

Organizational Concepts
Responsibility- is the obligation to do, to the best of one’s ability, the task that has been assigned, or delegated. In any organization, responsibility begins with the overall objective of the organization. For example, for nurses in a hospital, service or patient care is the responsibility.
Authority- the right of decision and commands. An individual with authority has the right to make decisions about his or her own responsibilities. Responsibility and authority are delegated down the scalar chain.
Delegation- is the process of assigning duties or responsibilities along with corresponding authority to another person. Authority must be delegated with the responsibility.
Accountability- is answering to someone for what has been done. It is related with responsibility.

Centralization versus Decentralization
In a highly centralized organization, the chief executive makes most decisions. Decentralization is the allocation of responsibility and authority for management decisions downward through the chain of command. In centralized, decisions made at the apex of the organization takes longer period of time than decisions made at the lower levels. Therefore, highly centralized organizations are slow in adapting to major changes. Lower level workers become passive, unenthusiastic and mechanical.
The executive who will not permit supervisors to select staff, determine staff schedule, institute working improvements, evaluate goal achievement, and recommend policy change deprive middle managers of opportunities for professional growth.
Decentralization of responsibility leads to improved employee morale. When middle managers are given responsibility for decision-making, they in-turn make still further, empowering staffs to formulate unit level work plans, policies and procedures.

As job responsibility and autonomy increase, so does job satisfaction. It improves staff nurse moral and retention. The head nurse's tasks in a decentralized organization are similar to a nursing director task in a highly centralized organization. Therefore, expert staff specialist should support the head nurses.

Types of Formal Organization Structures

Line Pattern/Relationship: This is the oldest and simplest type of formal organization chart. It is a straightforward, direct chain of command with superior subordinate relationships. The line pattern is more efficient than other structures, because it provides clear authority-responsibility relationships between workers and requires less information transmission between managers and workers.
The typical line pattern is divided laterally into segments representing different nursing specialties. The perspective of workers differs from the bottom to the top of the structure. Workers at the base of pyramids-Nursing assistants, Orderlies, staff nurses perform the basic work of nursing mission, i.e. direct patient care.
Employees in the middle of the structure- head nurses, patient care coordinators, supervisors are responsible for professional decision-making and direction of day to day operations. Personnel at the top of the structure-Vice president or director and assistant directors are responsible for non-programmed decision making, such as goal setting, program planning, and performance evaluation.

Advantages of Line Pattern

·        It is easy to orient new employees, because of clearly defined interpersonal relations as well as responsibility and accountability;
·        Easy to manage, because orders can be transmitted quickly;
·        Well established division of labor;There is a clear-cut work specialization and role separation.


·     As a result of specialization, it makes employee's task narrow, repetitive performance and causes communication difficulties among specialists;
·     Since it is rigid, workers tend to resist innovative changes and resist recommendations from outsiders;
·     Line pattern causes passivity and dependence in staff members and autocratic behavior in managers. The strong chain of command and concentration of authority at the top of hierarchy cause lower level employees to refer difficult problems to their immediate superior. Managers talk more than to listen;
·        It is characterized by weak integration of different divisions or departments. Interaction is only on the same division and there is no lateral communication. Head nurses will never seek advice from a more experienced head nurse in a different clinical division to resolve a patient care.

Line and Staff Pattern/Relationship/in an Organization
Line functions are those that direct responsibility for accomplishing the objectives of a nursing department. For the most, part they are filled with registered nurses licensed assistant nurses or other types of nurses. Staff functions are those that assist the line in accomplishing the primary objectives of nursing. They include clerical, personnel, budgeting, and finance, staff development, and research. The relationship between line and staff are a matter of authority. Line has authority for direct supervision of employees, while staff provides advice and counsel.

To make staff effective, top management ensures that line and staff authority relationships are clearly defined. Personnel of both should work to make their relationships effective; they attempt to minimize friction by increasing mutual trust and respect.
The advantage of a line and staff pattern is that key management functions that the chief executive has neither skill nor time to execute well are delegated to functional experts who can devote full time to the assigned function without being distracted by responsibilities of day today management of personnel and material.
The disadvantage of line and staff pattern is that staff officers have less power than line officers, because the latter direct the basic operations. Furthermore, staff officers must stand quietly in the background, while line managers receive recognition for improvements. Staff positions are also located at the periphery of formal structure, which casts incumbents in the role of social isolates.

Matrix Organizational Structure
This Pattern is a complex construct in which and employee may be responsible to two or more bosses for different aspects of work. In this pattern, a staff nurse stationed on a given patient unit is responsible to the head nurse of that unit but also to a case manager who oversees the clinical progress of her patients. It could also be through vertical and horizontal coordination.
Potential problems with a matrix type organization can easily be discerned. If, for example, the head nurse and the case manager give conflicting orders to the staff nurse, the job may be indefensible, or a manipulative staff nurse may play his/her two bosses off against each other. When a matrix organization is used, there must be clear decision rules and, it is hoped, good interpersonal relationships. The employee must know which boss has the final word when they receive conflicting orders or conflicting demands concerning work priorities.

Functional Line and Staff Pattern
A third type of formal organization structure is the functionalized line and staff organization. In this structure, staff officers are no longer purely advisory but have some command authority over line employees. The director of in-service may have the authority to decide how much indoctrination training and what type of orientation each new nurse must receive and when orientation classes will be held. The director of quality improvement may have the authority to assign selected staff nurses to gather data on critical indicators of care quality, regularly submit quality monitoring reports, and remedy identified problems.
As a nursing organization increases in size, it may evolve from a pure line, to a line and staff, and finally, to a functional line and staff structure. The advantage of functionalized line and staff organization is that the expert responsible for a specified management function, such as staffing, policies, quality improvement, or staff development, has authority to command line managers to implement needed actions that relate to the expert’s specified function.

Standards for evaluating the effectiveness of line and staff relationships in a hierarchical organization Standards

1.      Line authority relationships are clearly delineated and defined by the organizational and/or functional charts and policies;
2.      Staff authority relationships are clearly delineated and defined by the organizational and /or functional charts and policies;
3.      Functional authority relations are clearly delineated and defined by the organizational and /or functional charts and policies;
4.      Staff personnel consult with, advise and provide counsel to line personnel;
5.      Service personnel functions are clearly understood by line and staff personnel;
6.      Line personnel seek and effectively use staff services;
7.      Appropriate staff services are being provided by line nursing personnel and other organizational departments or services;
8.      Services are not being duplicated because line and staff authority relationships.

Systems of Nursing Service Delivery
Effective management makes the organization function, and the nursing manager has a responsibility of nursing care delivery systems that demonstrate ways of organizing nursing’s work. Within these systems there are advantages and disadvantages for quality of care, use of resources, and staff growth.

Case Method
The new method, traced back to Florence Nightingale, began in the early days of the nursing profession and was the convenient and appropriate way to manage care. Individuals are assigned to give total care to each patient, including the necessary medicine and treatments. The nurses report to their immediate superior, who is the head nurse. The disadvantages of this system are that all personnel might not have been qualified to deliver all aspects of care, and depending on the structure, too many people were reporting to the head nurse (overextended span of control).

Functional Method
The functional method is the next step to deal with different levels of caregivers. Assignments of patient care are made by the level of task; in other words, each person performs one task or functions in keeping with the employees’ educational experience. For example Nurse Aides /Health Assistants/ give baths, feed patients, and take vital signs to all patients. Professional nurses are responsible for medications, treatments, and procedures for all patients. The head nurse is responsible for overall direction, supervision, and education of the nursing staff.

·        Reduce personnel costs
·        Supports cost control

·        Fragments nursing care
·        May decrease staff job satisfaction
·        Decreases personal contacts with client
·        Limits continuity of care

Team Nursing
A dramatic change occurred after World War II in the years between 1943 and 1945. The level and number of auxiliary personnel began increasing, and the professional nurse was assuming more and more of the management functions. Because of the changing configuration of the work group and the dramatic social upheaval, a study was commissioned to device a better way to provide nursing care. Dr. Eleanor Lambertson of Columbia University in New York and Francis Perkins of Massachusetts General Hospital were the authors of the system known as team nursing. Team nursing was developed to deal with the influx of post war workers and the head nurse’s overextended span of control. This was accomplished by arranging the workers in teams.
The team consists of the senior professional nurse becoming the team leader; the members of the team are other registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) or vocational nurses, and nurses’ aides. Each is being given a patient assignment in keeping with the employee’s education and experience. The team leader make the assignments, delegated the work through the morning report, make rounds throughout the shift to make sure patients are being cared for properly, and conducts a team conference at the end of the shift to evaluate the patient care and plan an update nursing care plans.
Since 1950, team nursing is becoming a popular way to structure nursing care.

Team nursing is a pattern of patient care that involves changing the structural and organizational framework of the nursing unit. This method introduces the team concept for the stated aim of using all levels of personnel to their fullest capacity in giving the best possible nursing care to patients. The structural and organizational changes necessary for this method includes the introduction of the nursing team with the team leader assuming responsible for the management of the patient care. The head nurse decentralizes authority to the team leader to direct the activities of the team members. The head nurse is no longer the center of all communication on the division because the members communicate directly with the team leader. The team leader had the responsibility for synchronizing the abilities of her/his team members so that they are able to function effectively in a team relationship. Emphasis is placed on the ability of all participants of patient care to plan, administer, and evaluate patient care.
The team approach to patient care represents more than reorganization or restructuring of nursing service. Instead, it is a philosophy of nursing and a method of organizing patient care. The difficulty with this method concerns the nurse’s absence at the bedside; the nurse is directing the care of others and thus not using nursing’s specialized knowledge as the best provider of patient care. Problems with this system have become the stimulus for a new system.

  •         Supports comprehensive care
  •        May increases job satisfaction
  •         Increases cost effectiveness

  •         Decreases personal contact with client
  •         Limits continuity of care

Primary Nursing
Primary nursing as a system of care provided for a way to provide quality comprehensive patient care and a framework for the development of professional practice among the nursing staff. Primary nursing was a logical next step in nursing’s historic evolution. By definition, primary nursing is a philosophy and structure that places responsibility and accountability for the planning, giving, communicating and evaluating of care for a group of patients in the hands of the primary nurse. Primary nursing was intended to return the nurse to the bedside, thus improving the quality of care and increasing the job satisfaction of the nursing staff.
The primary nurse is expected to give total care, to establish therapeutic relationship, to plan for 24 hours continuity in nursing are through a written nursing care plan, to communicate directly with other members of the health team, land to plan for discharge. The patient’s participation is expected in the planning, implementing, land evaluating of his or her own care. Perhaps the best aspect of primary nursing is the improved communication provided by the one-to-one relationship between nurse and patient.
Associate nurses are involved with this method by caring for the patients in the absence of primary nurse. Their responsibilities include continuing the care initiated by the primary nurse and making necessary modifications in the absence of primary nurse.
Primary nursing was adapted in organizations to fit the staffing patterns and general nursing philosophy. Because of the need for high percentage of professional nurses, other modifications of the system developed, such as modular nursing.

  •      May increase job satisfaction
  • I    Improves continuity of care
  •      Allows independent decision making
  •      Supports direct nurse-client communication
  •      Encourages discharge planning
  •       Improves quality of care

·        Increases personnel costs initially
·        Requires properly trained nurses to carry out systems principles
·        Restricts opportunity for evening and night shift nurses to participate

Case Management
More recently, a new method of nursing care delivery has evolved known as case management. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has defined case management to be a system of health assessment, planning, service procurement and delivery, coordination, and monitoring to meet the multiple service needs of clients. This is an all-inclusive and comprehensive model and is not restricted to the hospital setting.
When a patient deviated from the usual expected course of recovery or health, consultation ensures to quickly correct the problem. This requires a great deal of systematic knowledge about a patient's problems and putting that knowledge into a type of nursing care plan (case management plans) with time lines to demonstrate progress or deviations from the critical paths. In addition to the nursing and medical services that are required for patients, other services are included, such as physical therapy and respiratory therapy.

·        Improves nurse responsiveness to clients changing needs
·        Improves continuity of care
·        May increase nurse’s job satisfaction

·        Increases personnel costs


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