Compare and contrast the rational, natural, and open systems of organizations.

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Pages: 9
Subject: Business

A Comparative Analysis of Rational, Natural, and Open Systems in Organizations


Organizations are intricate and dynamic entities that come in various shapes and sizes, each with its unique approach to structure and operation. Three prominent theoretical perspectives that shed light on the functioning of organizations are the rational system, the natural system, and the open system. This essay aims to provide a comprehensive comparison and contrast of these organizational systems, exploring their defining characteristics, the relationships between them, the theoretical viewpoints that underpin them, and offering personal perspectives on their relevance and applicability in contemporary organizational settings.

Defining Characteristics of Rational, Natural, and Open Systems

  1. Rational System: The rational system of organization is rooted in the principles of classical management theory, particularly the work of Frederick Taylor and Henri Fayol. It is characterized by the following key features:

a. Formalization: Rational systems emphasize a high degree of formalization. Roles, responsibilities, procedures, and rules are clearly defined and documented. This ensures consistency and efficiency in operations.

b. Hierarchy: These organizations typically have a strict hierarchical structure where authority and decision-making are concentrated at the top. Employees are expected to follow orders and adhere to established protocols.

c. Specialization: Rational systems often encourage specialization, where employees focus on specific tasks or roles to maximize efficiency and productivity.

d. Goal-Oriented: The primary focus of rational organizations is to achieve predefined goals and objectives. Decision-making is guided by a commitment to rationality, efficiency, and the pursuit of organizational objectives.

e. Efficiency: Efficiency is a paramount concern in rational systems. Processes are streamlined to minimize waste, reduce costs, and optimize resource utilization.

f. Control: Centralized control mechanisms are prevalent, with strict monitoring and evaluation of performance. Feedback loops and performance metrics are used to maintain control.

  1. Natural System: The natural system of organization takes a more organic and human-centric approach. This perspective emerged as a response to the limitations of the rational system and is characterized by the following:

a. Informality: Natural systems promote a more informal and flexible organizational structure. There is an acknowledgment of the complexity of human interactions and the need for adaptability.

b. Empowerment: Employees in natural systems are often empowered to make decisions and contribute to problem-solving. There is a belief in the potential for creativity and innovation among all members.

c. Human Relations: The natural system places a strong emphasis on building positive human relations within the organization. It recognizes the importance of trust, collaboration, and a sense of belonging.

d. Adaptability: These organizations are designed to be adaptable and responsive to change. They recognize that the external environment is dynamic, and the organization must evolve accordingly.

e. Shared Values: Natural systems often have a set of shared values and a common organizational culture that guides behavior and decision-making. These values are not imposed but emerge organically.

  1. Open System: The open system perspective views organizations as constantly interacting with their external environment. This perspective emphasizes the following characteristics:

a. Environmental Interaction: Open systems are highly attuned to their external environment. They actively seek information and resources from the environment and adapt to changes in it.

b. Boundary Permeability: Unlike closed systems, open systems have permeable boundaries, allowing for the exchange of information and resources with the external environment. They are receptive to feedback and input from various stakeholders.

c. Adaptation: Open systems prioritize adaptation to environmental changes. They adjust their strategies, structures, and processes to align with shifting external conditions.

d. Complexity: Open systems are often complex and interconnected. They recognize that the organization is just one part of a larger system of interrelated components.

e. Innovation: Innovation is valued in open systems, as it enables them to respond effectively to changes in the environment. They encourage experimentation and learning.

Relationship Between the Three Systems

The rational, natural, and open systems of organizations are not mutually exclusive; rather, they represent different perspectives that can coexist and influence different aspects of an organization’s functioning. It’s important to understand how these systems can interrelate within an organization:

  1. Rational System and Natural System: The rational system and natural system perspectives often interact in complex organizations. While the rational system provides structure, efficiency, and goal-oriented approaches, the natural system complements it by emphasizing employee empowerment, human relations, and adaptability.

In practice, this may mean that an organization has a formal hierarchy and clear processes (rational), but it also fosters an inclusive and innovative culture (natural). Employees may have defined roles and responsibilities but are encouraged to voice their ideas and contribute to decision-making. This integration can lead to a balanced approach where efficiency is not sacrificed for employee satisfaction and creativity.

  1. Natural System and Open System: The natural system and open system perspectives share a common focus on adaptability and human relations. Both acknowledge the importance of understanding and responding to the external environment.

In organizations that combine these perspectives, there may be a strong emphasis on building positive relationships with external stakeholders (open), while also empowering employees to make decisions and adapt to changing circumstances (natural). This synergy can result in organizations that are not only responsive to external changes but also capable of harnessing internal creativity and innovation to meet challenges.

  1. Rational System and Open System: The rational system and open system perspectives can complement each other in certain aspects. Rational systems provide the structure and efficiency needed for organizations to function effectively, while open systems ensure that organizations remain responsive to external changes.

In practice, this could mean that an organization has well-defined processes and a clear chain of command (rational), but it also actively monitors and adapts to changes in the external environment (open). This combination allows the organization to maintain control and efficiency while also staying attuned to external opportunities and threats.

Theoretical Viewpoints

Each of these organizational systems is rooted in distinct theoretical viewpoints that provide the framework for understanding and applying them in practice.

  1. Rational System: The rational system is closely aligned with classical management theories, particularly scientific management and administrative theory. Frederick Taylor’s scientific management emphasized the importance of efficiency, standardization, and the division of labor. Henri Fayol’s administrative theory focused on the functions of management, including planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling.

These theories assume that organizations are rational entities that can be optimized through careful planning and control. They view employees as resources to be managed efficiently to achieve organizational objectives.

  1. Natural System: The natural system perspective draws on theories that emphasize the human side of organizations. One of the key theoretical foundations is the human relations movement, which emerged in response to the mechanistic and dehumanizing aspects of classical management. Researchers like Elton Mayo and Kurt Lewin highlighted the importance of social interactions, motivation, and employee well-being.

The natural system perspective aligns with theories that recognize the complex and dynamic nature of human behavior within organizations. It values human creativity, intrinsic motivation, and the role of leadership in creating a positive organizational culture.

  1. Open System: The open system perspective is rooted in general systems theory, which was developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the mid-20th century. General systems theory posits that organizations are open, dynamic systems that interact with their environment. This perspective emphasizes the interconnectedness of all elements within a system and the need to consider the broader context.

The open system perspective encourages organizations to be adaptive, learning-oriented, and sensitive to changes in their external environment. It draws from theories related to complexity, chaos theory, and contingency theory, which all emphasize the importance of adaptation and responsiveness.

Personal and General Perspective

In considering the relevance and applicability of these organizational systems, it’s important to offer both a personal perspective and a general perspective on their strengths, limitations, and contexts of use.

Personal Perspective:

From a personal standpoint, the choice of which organizational system to adopt depends on various factors, including the nature of the organization, its goals, and the values of its leadership. Personally, I believe that a hybrid approach that combines elements of all three systems can be effective.

The rational system’s emphasis on efficiency and goal orientation is valuable in ensuring that an organization can execute its plans effectively and meet its objectives. However, an organization that solely relies on the rational system may risk stifling creativity, demotivating employees, and becoming too rigid to adapt to changing circumstances.

The natural system’s focus on human relations and employee empowerment resonates with the idea that motivated and engaged employees can be a source of competitive advantage. Encouraging innovation, collaboration, and open communication can lead to higher job satisfaction and better problem-solving. Nevertheless, an overly informal approach may result in a lack of accountability and direction.

The open system perspective’s emphasis on adaptability and environmental responsiveness is critical in today’s fast-paced and uncertain business environment. Organizations that fail to adapt to changing market conditions and emerging trends can quickly become obsolete. However, embracing too much openness without a clear structure may lead to chaos and a loss of focus.

Therefore, a balanced approach that combines elements of all three systems is my preferred perspective. This involves maintaining clear processes and goals (rational), fostering positive human relations and employee empowerment (natural), and staying attuned to external changes and opportunities (open). Such an approach allows for efficiency while also nurturing creativity and adaptability.

General Perspective:

From a general perspective, it’s important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to organizational design. The choice of system should align with the organization’s specific goals, industry, and competitive environment.

For example, in highly regulated industries such as finance and healthcare, the rational system’s emphasis on formalization, control, and compliance may be crucial to meet regulatory requirements and ensure the integrity of operations. In contrast, creative industries like advertising and technology may benefit more from a natural system that encourages innovation and collaboration among employees.

Furthermore, the choice of system may evolve over time as organizations grow and their external environment changes. A start-up, for instance, may begin with a more natural and open system to encourage creativity and adaptability. However, as it matures and scales, it may introduce more formalized processes and controls to maintain efficiency and consistency.

In summary, the choice of organizational system should be context-dependent, with organizations adapting their approaches as needed to align with their goals and changing circumstances. While each system has its strengths and limitations, a flexible and integrated approach that combines elements of all three can provide a well-rounded framework for organizational success.


In conclusion, organizations can be understood and analyzed through the lenses of three prominent systems: the rational system, the natural system, and the open system. Each system has its defining characteristics, theoretical foundations, and strengths and limitations.

The rational system places a strong emphasis on efficiency, formalization, and goal orientation. It draws from classical management theories and assumes that organizations can be optimized through careful planning and control.

The natural system takes a more human-centric approach, emphasizing employee empowerment, positive human relations, and adaptability. It emerged as a response to the limitations of the rational system and is rooted in theories that recognize the complexity of human behavior.

The open system perspective views organizations as dynamic entities that interact with their external environment. It prioritizes adaptability, responsiveness, and the recognition that organizations are part of larger, interconnected systems.

These systems are not mutually exclusive, and organizations often blend elements of all three to suit their specific contexts and goals. The choice of system should be guided by a careful consideration of the organization’s industry, competitive environment, and developmental stage.

From a personal perspective, a balanced approach that combines elements of all three systems is preferred. This approach allows for efficiency, employee empowerment, and adaptability, fostering a dynamic and responsive organizational culture.

In the ever-changing landscape of contemporary organizations, understanding these systems and their interrelationships is essential for leaders and managers to make informed decisions and create structures that promote both effectiveness and employee well-being. Ultimately, the key to organizational success lies in the ability to adapt, innovate, and balance the rational, natural, and open systems to meet the challenges of the modern business world.


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