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date: 26 September 2023

The Sociotechnical Approach to Work Organizationlocked

The Sociotechnical Approach to Work Organizationlocked

  • David E. GuestDavid E. GuestKing's College London


The sociotechnical approach, developed by psychologists at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in the 1950s, proposes that the design of work should seek to optimize both the social and the technical systems within organizations, offering a counter to ideas of technological determinism. It further suggests that organizations should be viewed as open systems, subject to sometimes unpredictable external and internal influences leading to a need for adaptability. The work group is viewed as the most relevant unit of analysis resulting in advocacy of autonomous work groups offering group members high levels of control over their work. Workers should participate in the design of their work and receive training and support to enable their involvement. This influential concept stimulated a large body of research in many countries. Despite some notable positive examples, outcomes were often mixed, reflecting the challenges of managing and sustaining significant change. The concept of joint optimization has also proved problematic, with psychologists tending to focus on the social system, while engineers give greater emphasis to the technical system. The advent of digital technologies is providing a new impetus to the need to design work to optimize both the social and technical systems, provoking renewed interest in the approach.


  • Organizational and Institutional Psychology

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