Organizational Change in Higher Education, V2 Chapter 9Edit

Sociotechnical Theories

Originating authors:  Eric Trist and Hugh Murray, Albert Cherns, Enid Mumford, Fred Emery, H.J. Leavitt, Frank Heller

Sociotechnical Theories test relationships between existing and hypothetical characteristics of organizational design and their effects on desired outcomes” (Bess & Dee, 2008, p. 801).  “Sociotechnical theories offer practical recommendations for redesigning organizations to improve prospects for successful organizational change. The central unit of change is the is the nature of the tasks performed, restricting them to increase the organizational members’ motivation for change. (Bess & Dee, 2008, p. 802) According to Bess and Dee (2008), sociotechnical theory suggests that is more effective to change the structure of the organization first, and allow the members’ attitudes and beliefs to follow.


STS Roundtable, an international not-for-profit association of professional and scholarly practitioners of Sociotechnical Systems Theory

Günter Ropohl, Philosophy of socio-technical systems, in: Society for Philosophy and Technology, Spring 1999, Volume 4, Number 3, 1999.

History and numerous links to the theory:


Bess, J. L., & Dee, J. R. (2008). Understanding college and university organization:  Theories for effective policy and practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Pasmore, W.A. (1988). Designing Effective Organizations: The Sociotechnical Systems Perspective. New York: Wiley.

Prida, B., & Grijalvo, M. (2008). The socio-technical approach to work organization. An essential element in Quality Management Systems. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 19(4), 343-352. doi:10.1080/14783360701594568

Taylor, J. C. & Felten, D. F. (1993). Performance by Design: Sociotechnical Systems in North America.  Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Trist, E & Murray, H. (1993).The Social Engagement of Social Science, Volume II: The Socio-Technical Perspective. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Human Processual Theory

Author: Kurt Lewin

This theory analysis the forces for and against change.  According to Bess and Dee (2008), this theory focuses on the need to change people first, before organizational change occurs.  “His force field analysis recognized that resistance to change can be overcome when people understand and contrast the forces that may be leading them to resist (restraining forces) and the forces inducing them to change (driving forces). (Bess & Dee, 2008, p. 805).

“Lewin also developed a mechanism for managing the process of change.  It involves three steps: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. (Bess & Dee, 2008, p. 805).


Kurt Lewin:

Lewin’s force field analysis explained:

Force field analysis explanation and worksheet:

Summary of Lewin’s change theory:


Bess, J. L., & Dee, J. R. (2008). Understanding college and university organization:  Theories for effective policy and practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal Of Management Studies, 41(6), 977-1002. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00463.x

Medley, B. C., & Akan, O. (2008). Creating positive change in community organizations: A case for rediscovering Lewin. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 18(4), 485-496. doi:10.1002/nml.199

Schein, E. H. (1999). Kurt Lewin's change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Reflections, 1(1), 59-74. doi:10.1162/152417399570287

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