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The Open system model below is very similar to the Phase 3, Drivers of Change Model.



The Weisbord Six-Box Model

By Jason Allred, Beverly Kring, and Joe Bohannon (TNU 2008)

The Six-Box Model is was designed in the mid 1970s, by Marvin Weisbord. Marvin Weisbord identified a six-step process that can assist companies in diagnosing the organizational operations. These steps are purpose, structure, relationships, rewards, leadership, and helpful mechanisms. These six steps can help companies grow and improve their processes within. In this paper, we will look at three different companies and see how certain steps in the six-box model help these different companies prosper.

The first step for an organization to start the improvement strategy process of the six-box model is purpose. Purpose is asking, “What business are we in and why we are in this business?” According to the article, “Organizational Diagnosis: A Six-Box Model”, Marvin Weisbord has observed that old markets die and new markets consistently emerge. The businesses of today may not be the business of tomorrow.

One example of a business that changes and grows with the industry is Colinx LLC. Colinx LLC is a company that warehouses and has logistic services for several different companies. Colinx LLC has to constantly change and grow to keep up with the warehousing and transportation industry. Colinx started out with a building that had about four-hundred thousand square feet under roof. Six years after Colinx LLC opened; it built onto the building and built about two-hundred thousand more square feet for a total of six-hundred square feet under roof. Then again, about two years later Colinx LLC built a high bay retrieval system that was about three-hundred and ninety feet long, forty-two feet wide, and one-hundred feet tall. The high bay retrieval system is equivalent to one-hundred and ten square feet. Colinx LLC had to grow and at the same time find ways to save transit time driving across the large building. They did this so they could keep up with the current industry. The president of Colinx LLC has said many times, “If we are not growing and changing, then we are dying.”

The second step in this process is structure. Structure or structuring is when the organization thinks about how the workload can be split up between different departments. An organization may have a shipping department and the shipping department’s only concern is to ship product to the customer. The shipping department does not think about the trucks coming in to deliver freight to the company because that concern falls on the receiving department.

Everyone in an organization has to know exactly what their job is and what they are supposed to do. If people within a company do not have good guidance or a good structure to follow, then that company will not grow or improve. Another example of this is, Colinx LLC has many different departments, and all of them do different jobs. Although the transportation department and the shipping department are similar, the job tasks are very different. The transportation department at Colinx LLC controls the flow of the loads and determines what trucks should be loaded and when. The shipping department makes sure that those trucks are loaded properly and that they leave on time. The transportation department has to be concerned about the freight cost and transit time on each truck. The shipping department’s biggest concern is making sure that all the freight is ready to be loaded and that the freight will fit on the truck that was been provided.

Another step to the six-box model is Rewards. Some reward systems include vacation time, stock option plans, bonuses, awards, and recognition. According to Michael le Boeuf, "You get more of the behavior you reward. You do not get what you hope for, wish for, or beg for. You get what you reward." If businesses want to succeed, they must implement some kind of reward system. It can be as simple as vocal praise from their superiors. It could also be a very elaborate bonus system. No matter what the rewards may be, managers need to reward accomplishments immediately. This helps employees connect their behavior with the reward (Kotelnikov).

A reward system starts with its managers. Managers must be motivating and encouraging people. Monetary rewards may not be the most effective type of reward. Rewards that affect emotions may work better. Managers also need to give praise freely to their employees and make their employees feel like they make a difference.

Leadership is also a step in the model. According to Weisbord, leadership’s main tasks are to scan the environment, set goals and align the internal organization to fulfill the defined objectives. In order to be effective at these tasks, the leadership style must fit the informal organizations behavior. What works for one organization may not work for another organization. The Oak Ridge Country Club has a laid-back leadership style. This fits the environment. There are not a lot of employees: around twenty in the winter and around 50 in the summer. Everyone knows each other and the employees have a lot of empowerment. If they did not, then the managers would have to be there all of the time. This leadership style may not work in a large construction job where there has to be many safety rules. A manager or supervisor would have to be present at all times to enforce these rules. This would involve a much more strict leadership style.

According to Jack Welch, the former COE of General Electric, "The genuine leader is someone who can express a vision and then get people to carry it out.” Leaders innovate, inspire, and influence. They honor their core values and are empathetic toward their employees. Managers must be optimistic all of the time in order for their employees to follow suit. The former Secretary of State, Colin Powell once said,
“…the essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact of the fate of the organization.”

Marvin Weisbord designed the six- box model to help organizations prosper. If all six categories are operating well, then the business should be doing well. Each business can look at the individual categories within it and try to determine its problems.

Works Citied

Kotelnikov,Vadim, “Effective Reward Systems.” E-coach. 2001. 8 June 2008

Powell, Colin, “18 Lessons for Leaders.” 1000 advices. 2001. 8 June 2008

Stahl, Dulcelina. “OrganizationalDiagnosis: A Six-Box Model.” 7 June 2008. <>

“Team Project.” 2003. 7 June 2008. < study.rft>

Weisbord, Marvin. “Six Boxes.” Proven Models. 2005-2008. 6 June 2008. <>

Weisbord, Marvin. “Weisbord’s Six-Box Model.” Chart. #4410 – Systems Management Student Guide. 7 June 2008.




by Regina Brooks and Vicki L. Walls (TNU 2008)

Systems are a natural part of our everyday world. They are present in almost every aspect of our lives. The universe we live in is a system and made up of many subsystems. The creator of the universe and all his glory weaved these systems and subsystems together to work, separate at times, to produce the wonderful world that we live in. Even the very body that we live in is a system and has numerous subsystems at work within that are so complex that science cannot grasp all of it. In this paper, we are going to deal with one aspect of these systems, the open and closed system in organizations.

Ludwig von Bertanlanffy developed the open system theory in 1956. A biologist in nature, Ludwig defined a system “where all systems characterized by an assemblage or combination of parts whose relations make them interdependent” (Scott p. 77). They soon found out that this concept could be applied to the study of organizations. The definition of a system is “an entity, which maintains its existence through the mutual interaction of its parts.”  These groups or parts are dependant on each other and work together toward the same goal. Characteristics of an open system are:

1. input of information or parts
2. processes
3. goals
4. interaction with their environment
5. assessment
6. evaluation
7. learning
8. flexibility
9. organic

The closed system is defined as having hard boundaries through which little information is exchanged. It is often used to refer to a scenario where closure is absolute. In practice, however, no system can be completely closed but rather, will be a system with varying degrees of closure. (Wikipedia, Closed System) The characteristics of a closed system are:

1. no feed back
2. mechanical
3. not dependant on environment
4. no output
5. no exchange of ideas
6. no influence on environment
7. stagnation

Organizations with closed systems are unhealthy, stagnate, and over time will usually dissipate. Examples of these kinds of systems are bureaucracies and monopolies.

The concept of systems can be illustrated by examining a system that most people know very little about, the human system. Obviously, the human system is something very complex. When this system works as designed, most of us take it for granted. However,
When our bodies malfunction or become sick, there is much to consider. The end goal is to fix the system or to become well again. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to look deeper.

Contained within the human body, numerous subsystems are constantly at work. When any of these subsystems fail to function as designed, the result may affect a subsystem and ultimately, the whole body. It is not possible to “fix” the body without addressing the problem within the subsystem that is the underlying cause of the illness. Unfortunately, for many, this is not always easy. Often other supporting subsystems are involved and contributing to a chain reaction that in turn, ultimately leads to a crisis for the entire body.

Being aware of how one basic system works, such as the human system, will help with understanding how other systems work. All systems are simply “a collection of subsystems working together to accomplish an overall goal (a system of people is an organization).” (McNamara) All open systems, as do human systems, have input, processes, outputs and outcomes, with ongoing feedback between these various parts. If one part of the system is removed, the system is changed. If one part of the system is not working well, the system is affected negatively (the body becomes sick).

Systems can range from very simple to very complex and there are numerous types of systems. For example, there are biological systems (the heart, respiratory, lymph, renal, nervous, etc.) that make up the human system or the body. There are also engineering, mechanical, social, ecological, and technological systems. Each of these systems has numerous subsystems, as well. These subsystems have different levels of significance (i.e. heart versus nervous) but are integrated to accomplish the goals of the overall system. Each subsystem has its own function and boundaries, and includes various inputs, processes, outputs, and outcomes geared to accomplish an overall goal for the subsystem. In the human system, the renal system works to rid the body of any impurities through a filtering process. If the kidneys fail to do their job, other subsystems will be affected and ultimately lead to the death of the entire system.

When applying these same principles to organizational systems, it is easier to understand how the overall organization is affected by the operations of the subsystems within. Organizations that understand this principle are better able to see that the success of the company often depends on the successful operations of the many subsystems within the company.

If an organization is compared to the human body, the parallels are not difficult to make. A typical organization chart would list the head of the organization first with the major departments and direct reports listed next. These major departments and their leaders would represent the major organs and systems within the human body. Each major department of a company is vitally important, has specific tasks and responsibilities and their performance affects the whole organization. Each sub-department has specific responsibilities and usually depends on other departments for support and provides support for to other departments. This input/output exchange works together to support the organization as a whole.

Open systems, closed systems, and system thinking in general may be considered a new way of looking at organizations. The truth and principles involved however have been present since the beginning of time. It has just taken a long time for analysis and theorist to put these concepts into writing. Open and closed systems in some form will interface with the lives of every human being throughout life. Understanding these concepts and learning to incorporate them in our areas of work will help build and maintain healthy, highly functioning organizations. These organizations will have a better chance of surviving and thriving in the business world.

Works Cited:

Bellinger, Gene. System Thinking. 6 June 2008. 

6 June 2008.  Select “Publications”

6 June 2008.

6 June 2008.

Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC. “Thinking About Organizations as
Systems” Copyright 1997-2007. Adapted from the Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development.
6 June 2008, 
Open systems thinking


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