What is Socio-Technical System Approach?

Socio-technical System approach is about harnessing the people aspects and technical aspects of organizational structure and processes to achieve joint optimization, with a focused emphasis on achieving excellence in both the technical performance and the quality in people’s work.

The term socio-technical system was coined in the 1960s by Eric Trist and Fred Emery who were working as consultants at the Tavistock Institute in London. Trist noted in his book "Organizational Choice" that "Inherent in the socio-technical approach is the notion that the attainment of optimum conditions in any one dimension does not necessarily result in a set of conditions optimum for the system as a whole….The optimization of the whole tends to require a less than optimum state for each separate dimension".

The work of Trist and Emery provide the basic foundation for High Performance Work Team Organization (HPWO) and the empowerment of teams in the following:

  • Responsible autonomy. Shifting work to teams or groups with internal supervision and leadership, but avoiding the "silo thinking" by engaging the whole system
  • Adaptability, agility. In an environment of increasing complexity, giving groups responsibility for solving local problems
  • Whole tasks. Specifying the objective to be completed, with a minimum of regulation of how it is to be done
  • Meaningfulness of tasks. In the words of Trist et al: "For each participant the task has total significance and dynamic closure."

From the works of Eric Trist and Fred Emery, Centre for Performance Transformation define High Performance Work Team as:

  • People working together to produce a product or services
  • They are focus on meeting or exceeding customers’ requirements
  • They have a clear understanding of their mission, roles, measures and operating guidelines
  • They demonstrate a high level of trust and interdependence skills that results in effective communication, team meetings and handling of differences
  • They seek continuous improvement by monitoring their performance, setting goals, analyzing their processes and identifying and solving problem on a regular basis
  • They are empowered to plan, control, coordinate and improve their work