Socio-Technical Systems


     Socio-Technical Systems (STS) have been thought to be implemented in their true form by various corporations and colleges over the past years however, when taking a closer look at what STS truly are, one begins to wonder about how limiting STS implementations have actually been.  Walt Scacchi explains that Socio-technical systems “…includes the network of users, developers, information technology at hand, and the environments in which the system will be used and supported” (pg.2, 2003).   Action research is a byproduct of true STS implementation, which propels this concept of “prescriptive design” forward into a more user friendly approach with “descriptive results” and as a more proactive approach to organizational development (Scacchi, pg. 3, 2003).  According to Jennifer Lombardo, action research can also be called “participatory research”, in that employees have as much input in the process as organizational leaders have (2014).  The most notable aspect of action research is that unlike traditional attempts to implement STS, it allows for reinvention and transformation.

     Scacchi explains that, “reinvention seeks to discover new ways of doing established work practices, while transformation seeks to rearrange workflow, staffing, and related resource configurations” (pg.5, 2003).  The way organizations have been attempting to implement STS however, take these processes out of the hands of the end users, inhibiting any possibility for true development.  John Aldridge calls this widely used form of socio-technical systems nothing more than a “technocratic approach” (2014), which only have the appearance of being an STS.  Aldridge believes that the reason why many postmodern organizations continue to struggle with effectively implementing STS, is due to the traditional beliefs of top managers.  He argues that organizations who attempt to implement true STS, simply “fade out” and “when this occurs, the organization simply regresses to conventional patterns of interaction” (Aldridge, 2014).  Top managers are overly concerned with maintaining control over subordinates and top-down decision making, which make their STS implementation very limited with regard to employee autonomy and flexibility.

     True STS “enables collaborative decision-making and shared leadership” and “STS challenges the traditional management taboos that of sharing information and knowledge with subordinates on a need to know basis only” (Aldridge, 2014).  Transformational leaders would be wise to implement true STS within organizations, as it truly promotes the achievement of a shared goal, by utilizing employee participation and draws from the collective ideas of an organizations pool of knowledge.  Transformational style leadership pairs harmoniously with true STS simply because, as Peter Northouse explains, “although the transformational leader plays a pivotal role in precipitating change, followers and leaders are inextricably bound together in the transformation process” (pg. 186, 2013).  STS, when implemented correctly allow for leaders and followers to share in decision-making, binding together all sides of the social structures of an organization.  True STS can be viewed as complete autonomy in decision-making in order to allow for the utmost flexibility within organizations.  Aldridge gives us some present day examples of organizations that have successfully managed to implement STS resulting in operational frameworks of integral leadership.  He mentions “hospital emergency rooms, trauma units, air traffic control centers, and research labs” as primary examples of “self regulating and autonomous work groups collaborating” (Aldridge, 2014).  Doctors obtain vital information in order to diagnose and treat patients in a emergency setting by using highly collaborative systems of shared knowledge, without any limitations from top managers.  In the same manner,  research labs deviate from hoarding knowledge in order to accelerate the identification of solutions to ongoing research problems.

     Given the aforementioned explanation of STS and its extrinsic nature, Facebook and Twitter could vary well be one of the purest forms of STS with virtually no decision-making influence form top-management, no limitations on knowledge and information sharing, and completely unrestricted collaboration with everyone.  Employees and managers could very-well use these vary exact web interfaces in order to sustain business operation decisions and development.  Leaders would adopt a system encouraging shared leadership, collaboration, and unlimited participation of all employees.  Information would be displayed for all employees to see and formulate ideas upon, aiding in the overall development of the organization.  Issues that plague organizations would be identified immediately, collectively analyzed and remedied with a solution benefiting the group as a whole.  As long as leaders put aside concerns for overall employee autonomy, the possibilities for greater organizational development are promising.


Aldridge, J. W. (n.d.). SOCIO-TECHNICAL SYSTEMS. Socio-technical Systems. Retrieved

August 9, 2014, from



Lombardo, J. (n.d.). What Is Action Research? – Executing Organizational Change. Education

Portal. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from



Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.


Scacchi, W. (2003). Socio-Technical Design. In The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer

Interaction (Vol. 53, pp. 1-10). California: Berkshire Publishing Group. Retrieved August

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Leave a Comment

  1. Kelly Crow says:

    Great Post Aaron.

    The year is 1949, the place is Great Britain at a South Yorkshire coal mine, the people are Fred Emery and Eric Trist, and what became of it is now what we call Socio-technical system (STS). Trist coined the phrase socio-technical systems as, “the interaction of people (a social system) with tools and techniques (a technical system),” (Aldridge, 2004).
    Socio technical studies focused on three levels in group relations, primary work systems with one or more persons face to face collaborating jointly with support, whole organization systems which “involved an enterprise-wide effort” and a macrosocial system which, “includes systems in communities and entire business sectors as well as societal institutions,” (Aldridge, 2004) The STS process, “emphasized group-relations, empowering autonomous internal-regulation,” (Aldridge, 2009).
    Facebook and Twitter are not STS; they are subsystems to STS, you can say that they are the socio-technical gap, although many would go against this theory in using an example of a computer (mechanical part) to a human (ourselves). The computer started out as hardware and soon you were able to load software then the internet comes along and people are researching and becoming more knowledgeable, then websites, such as Facebook, come along and they become communities. The physical level is not just the computer but also the human bodies, as they both are physical. The information level isn’t just the computer but also the neuronal processing. If you look at the definition of STS your first thought is that it is technical systems, but the part that is often missed is the tools and techniques, which is referring to a group of people, although Facebook may have a community and people, the people do not have a say as to what the programming offers, they cannot go in and change the system, they can only change what they wish to see on their home page. As Aldridge states, “As all, the Internet is fundamentally based on the cybernetic concept of self-regulation,” (2004). Although you can self-regulate what is on your home page you cannot self-regulate the system. Aldridge states that, “Emery distinguished between operative and regulative institutions. Socio-technical systems are exclusively operative,” (2004).
    Management still holds onto the top-down approach as they do not want to give up their power or authority, they have worked too hard to obtain it. They believe that if they hold onto this they will never be replaced. Aldridge states, “The central tenet of a technocratic bureaucracy is that decision-making is top-down and implementation is bottom up.” (2004).
    In closing Aldridge states, “STS is anywhere self-regulating and autonomous work groups collaborate, share knowledge and remain agile under turbulent conditions,” (2004).

    Aldridge, J.W. (2004). Information on Socio-technical systems. Socio-Technical Systems: Team Building Glossary. Retrieved August 9, 2014 from:

  2. Gordon Burton says:

    A true Socio-Technical System is the blending of the social and the technical to create a system where things such as training, questions, and information can all be traded back and forth quickly or instantly. There is a degree of internal-regulation, where those who contribute are the same people that regulate it, this allows autonomous work groups to assume responsibility for the entire work cycle (Aldridge, 2004).
    I do not feel that twitter is a Socio-Technical System, but I do feel that Facebook can definitely be a good example of one, if used correctly. On Facebook you are allowed to create groups and invite other to join that group. Since you started the group, you are automatically made a moderator, this allows you to edit posts, add members, change settings, etc. This becomes a perfect collaboration space to share information, ask questions, and really connect with team members or other work associates. Twitter on the other hand is very limited in its ability to ask questions and confidently collaborate, not to mention there is a character limit to your “posts”.
    Aldridge, J.W. (2004). Encyclopedia of distributed learning. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications

  3. Travis.Carlson.USA says:

    Socio-technical systems play an important role in action research as well as collaboration and execution of business products and services. Rayport (2011) stated
    “With voice mail, videoconferencing, instant messaging, chat forums, blogs, wikis, social networking, microblogging (through services such as Twitter and Foursquare), voice-over IP, telepresence, and , of course, mobile communications and computing, never have we had so many ways to collaborate without having to be in the same place at the same time.”
    Multiple factors are extremely important to be present in an STS environment. Deployment, training, and support of STS platforms are not only encouraged, but required, in all organizations. In today’s day and age with communication and collaboration being executed with the touch of a finger on any mobile device, businesses have to be willing to play in this new virtual culture. Utilizing STS platforms for global organization will not only allow for global collaboration but will help mitigate costs to the businesses.
    Many companies have been resistant to this type of collaboration as it was seen as purely a social endeavor. Now that companies have used, modified, or changed technical systems to meet their needs, it’s considered imperative to share ideas and solutions via the internet and a company’s intranet. Global companies who work various time zones can utilize these STS platforms to share new R&D ideas, successful marketing campaigns, sales plans and incentives, as well as cultural norms pending on the location of the business unit. It’ is imperative that senior management invests the financial resources to create or manipulate certain platforms as well as train their employees on the proper use of the social mediums. Companies need to ensure they have the necessary hardware, software, and processes that provide direction and communicate the encouragement of social systems as well as regulations on what is considered appropriate or not appropriate behavior. It is important to ensure companies maintain and keep a very flexible environments to sustain the rate of change in both the technology and social platforms. I believe Facebook can be used as an effective STS as you can create groups within Facebook that limit and allow certain members to participate in discussions. I believe Twitter can be used you to market and sell products but collaborating among peers nationally and globally may be less secure than a Facebook or Yammer.
    Having worked for a global company with offices throughout the world, the use of Lotus Notes team-rooms as well as utilizing telepresence greatly reduce travel costs to the business. Being able to collaborate via video conferencing as well as document and store data in centrally accessed databases allowed for people to work together in setting strategy, sharing lessons learned, and solving complex customer problems.
    The encouragement of STS platforms must not only be encouraged by senior managers, but must be considered a core job responsibility for each employee in the company. Not utilizing these platforms could increase cost to the business, create silos in an organization, and eventually prohibit a company from reaching their maximum market share.

    Rayport, J. Technology will make collaboration your next competitive advantage. MIT technology review. Retrieved from: March 1, 2011

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