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Systems Theory Definition and Analysis

Systems theory is a concept in biology and cybernetics that can be used in several diverse disciplines. It serves to explain relationships between separate components of one unity (a system, organization, or group of people). As it is known, a system is regulated by the structure and relationship patterns of all its elements. This paper will define the concept of systems theory and two of its basic principles.

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To start with, a clear definition of the term “systems theory” should be given. The term takes its origin from the 1950s when it meant “systematic theoretical constructs to define the empirical world” in biology (Lai, 2017, p.1). According to a more precise definition, general systems theory provides “a framework or structure of systems on which to hang the flesh and blood of particular disciplines and particular subject matters in an orderly and coherent corpus of knowledge” (Lai, 2017, p.1). The main function of general systems theory is to explain the patterns of interactions used by the system components to execute the goals of the system. It also examines and predicts the way the system and its components respond to environmental changes and demands.

The systems theory concludes that four action stages serve to ensure the existence, homeostasis, and effectiveness of the system. These stages, designed to maintain equilibrium, include adaptation, goal attainment, pattern maintenance, and integration. Systems theory aims to explain dynamic relationships and interdependence between all elements that occur at each of these stages. Furthermore, the systems theory examines and explains the dependency between an organization and its environment.

The most important notion that relates to the systems’ relationships with the environment is one of the boundaries. All systems have their boundaries that are designed to define the flow of information within the system and maintain the homeostasis and the overall structure of the organization, even if the latter interacts with the world around it (Neukrug, 2016). At the same time, it should be mentioned that each system has its unique types of boundaries that might differ from all other systems (Neukrug, 2016). Therefore, the boundaries of one family would be completely different from the boundaries of the counseling group. For example, a workgroup might have rigid boundaries, while a loving family can have quite permeable boundaries. The author compares the notion of boundaries to the semipermeable boundaries that ensure nutrition that comes to amoeba from the environment (Neukrug, 2016). This notion is quite precise since the boundaries allow some amount of information to flow into the system.

Another principle of systems theory is homeostasis. Boundaries allow some new information to enter the system and be processed. However, the principle of homeostasis helps to maintain the sense of unity and identity and does not allow any changes to take place. Homeostasis prevents individuals from behaving in a manner that is not typical of the particular family or group. The reason for this important principle is that systems become comfortable with their typical ways of behaving. Therefore, members of the same system will exert overt or covert pressure to suppress those members who start to behave atypically for this particular system.

As can be seen, every system is regulated by specific patterns of the relationships between its elements. Two of the most important systems theory notions are the principle of homeostasis and boundaries. Systems theory is relevant to humans since it helps to examine and understand the most complex and essential interaction of systems, which then results in more effective human services.


Lai, C.-H., & Huili Lin, S. (2017). Systems theory. The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication, 1–18. Web.

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Neukrug, N. (2016). Theory, practice, and trends in human services: An introduction. Cengage Learning.

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