organization people technology

foundations of business

student page

on this page sessions key notions links
Introduction Why study?
What will you study? Reading and resources
How to study? Required skills
Assessment Assignment Feedback (pdf)new
Exam guidance and download pack Tutorial group work
Other information
topics case / groupwork
1 Introduction (pdf) Hadrian's Wall
2 Business Viability (pdf) MSI
3 Rationality and Decision-Making (pdf) Kodak
4 Accounting (pdf) Enron
5 Business Structure and Process: Social Patterns of Business Organization (pdf) Cisco
Systems Thinking (pdf) Credit Card Loss

Mobile Charge

8 Ethics and Corporate Governance (pdf) Heathrow Express
9 Technology and Work (pdf) LongWall Mining
10 Wrap Marks and Spencernew

systems theory
download complete glossary (pdf)



organization people technology

Course Introduction

veryard projects > organization and management > foundations of business > course introduction

This is a first-year undergraduate module, as part of your degree in Business Computing.  It leads into a second-year course on Organizational Behaviour.

Let’s start by observing that “The Foundations of” doesn’t mean “An Introduction to”. It means going back to first principles, aiming to understand something more deeply. Many university courses require the student to discover the foundations of a subject familiar from school, or from real-life.

Whether you have taken previous courses in Business Studies, or read books by management gurus; worked in a family business or simply followed business stories in the media, you will already have some knowledge and awareness of business. Studying the foundations of business at university level should take your knowledge and awareness forwards in two ways:

Business can be regarded as a social system that creates value. This indicates four founding disciples for business studies. (Note: the study of Organizational Behaviour depends additionally on Psychology. We address this subject in the second-year course.)

Finally, note that business is essential a practical activity, and cannot be reduced to abstract theory. Even when studying the foundations of business, we need to remain connected to the practical implications. The course therefore includes practical examples and case studies.

organization people technology

What you will study

veryard projects > organization and management > foundations of business > what study

The course opens with a look at stakeholder concerns. The notion that different people and groups have different interests and different perspectives on what is going on is fundamental to the ethics of business. By paying attention to the philosophy of value, what is important to whom and why, we have a way of understanding the complexity of business questions. The notion of the best move a business can make cannot be reduced to any single dimension such as cost, benefit or risk.

Business is firmly associated with making money and therefore accounting for money within a business system is crucial. The financial view of a company is based on aspects of economics and takes a mathematical view of cause and effect and the balance of forces. The subtext of accounting is the accountability of one group to another for the use of resources. Accounting for means to construct an argument that responsibilities have been properly discharged.

Financial arguments are often used to bolster the rationale for business decisions. Decisions have to be taken in such a way that they command the respect or at least consent of those they affect, and the two elements of rational arguments leading to rational choice, and financial data to support those arguments are very common. Rational arguments can be extended to take in uncertain future events via notions of probability and risk. Although rational choice is key to understanding how people think about business decision making, there are important limitations on both rationality and the understanding it can generate.

One limit of rationality is exposed in the study of the behaviour of organisations as systems. Systems have emergent properties that are not predictable on the basis of the behaviour of their components. One can study systems as closed, that is generating all their behaviour on the basis of their internally generated view of the world, or open, that is in constant exchange of information and other resources with their environment. At this level organisations are seen to have structure and feedback mechanisms that stabilise them quite irrespective of the detailed management decisions taken day-to-day.

When attention is turned to the patterns of social system that these aspects of stability generate, one sees hierarchies, markets, networks, clans etc. A sociological view shows how these patterns work as social systems and what they are like to work in and with. How activity gets co-ordinated and what cultural templates exist must be understood if the development and change of these patterns is to be managed.

To co-ordinate activity within organisations requires the flow of information, another area of systems theory. Feedback loops and delays within these information flows result in complex behaviour of the system that can nevertheless be modelled by system dynamics. The limits of systems dynamics models are found in non-linear and feedforward models that underlie chaos theory. Some key business events, such as stock market crashes, cannot be handled by equilibrium theories of economics.

Patterns of information flow and the connections between management decisions and the behaviour of the systems they purport to control lead to a view of business risk. The attempt to create different sorts of value for different types of stakeholder forms a complex landscape of winners and losers, all subject to uncertainty both in the environment and in the actual effect of the actions taken. The negotiation of balance in this landscape is an ethical question normally dealt with by political processes.

These political processes are not purely social phenomena, because business organisations are increasingly built around technology that supports and shapes the business processes adopted. The interaction of social systems with technology, and the behaviour of seamless sociotechnical systems must be understood. Neither the social processes nor the technology can be properly understood in isolation from the other.

All the subjects of study, the systems, the economics, the ethics and the technology are driven by the meaning we choose to find in them. The distribution of power and the creation and sustaining of meaning within the cultures we work in are crucial factors both in the flow of energy within and between organisations and in the design of all aspects of future organisations. To discover these roots of design we must be able to listen to the meanings that people find in organisations.

organization people technology


veryard projects > organization and management > foundations of business > assessment


Your performance on this course is assessed in three ways.
10% Assessment of group work.  This is strongly weighted towards the second half of the module, by which time students should have understood the required structure and style of group work.
20% Individual essay. Marked essays are returned to the student via your personal tutor.
70% Exam.
organization people technology

Group Work

veryard projects > organization and management > foundations of business > group work

Each student has been allocated to one of the four tutorial sessions (Blue, Green, Red, Yellow). You may not change these allocations without special permission from the lecturer.

You are required to attend the full hour of your seminar.

Within each tutorial session, you should form teams of 3-5 students. You should try to remain in the same team for the whole term if possible. However, if the absence of some team-members makes your team non-viable, you should join another team.

Each team prepares a five-minute presentation on the subject of the tutorial, which will normally be a case study. You should take it in turns to present during the term.

Your marks for group work will depend on the following points:

organization people technology

Other Information

veryard projects > organization and management > foundations of business > other information

This course is run for City University by Richard Veryard (Veryard Projects Ltd) and Aidan Ward (Antelope Projects Ltd).

Student enquiries about the content of the course should be directed to the following email address:
Administrative enquiries should be directed to the Department, or to your personal tutor.

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organization people technology

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This page last updated on March 25th, 2003
Copyright © 2002, 2003 Veryard Projects Ltd and Antelope Projects Ltd