Organization Theories Evolution

Stages in the Development of Organization Theory

The current state of organization theory is the result of an evolutionary process. In this literature we overview the various contributions to the buildup of organization theory to drive home the point that the current organization theories reflect a cumulative developmental pattern and help us understand what is happening in today’s organization theory.

The stages in the development theory are given below:

  1. Early Contributions.
  2. The Classical School of Organization Theory.
  3. The Human Relations School of Organization Theory.
  4. The Contingency Approach of Organizational Theory.
  5. Political Approach to Organizational Theory.

Early Contributions

The origin of organization theory Opens in new window can be traced back to antiquity. Evidence of the use of the well-recognized principles of organization theory can be found in the Holy Bible, the public life in ancient Greece, the Organization of the Roman Catholic Church and the organization of military forces. Opens in new window

The most important milestone in terms of its impact on organization theory was the Industrial Revolution that began in Great Britain, spread to the United States of America and to British Colonies throughout the world.

The Industrial Revolution Opens in new window had two major elements that contributed to the growth of organization theory (a) Machine power replacing to a large extent the human power and (b) the widespread creation of factories.

These developments had an impact on organization design and structures to facilitate efficient large scale manufacturing process.

The Classical School of Organization Theory

The classical school of thought Opens in new window developed universal principles of organizational theory that can be applied to all situations. The classical theory will be remembered as an era in which traditional ways of managing where challenged and scientifically systematized theory of organizations were distilled and propagated.

The chief contributions to the classical school of thought include:

  1. Taylor’s Scientific Management.
  2. Max Weber’s Bureaucracy.
  3. Ralph Davis’s Rational-Planning Perspective.

The Human Relations School of Organization Theory

The Human Relations School’s Opens in new window recognition of the social nature of organizations gave greater emphasis to individual and group relationship in the workplace and pointed out the role of psychology and sociology in the understanding of individual and group behavior in an organization.

The chief contributors to the Human Relations School Opens in new window include:

  1. Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne Studies.
  2. Chester Bernard Notion of an organization as a co-operative system.
  3. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y with the implication that Theory Y (positive assumptions of human nature) should be the preferable guide to managers.
  4. Warren Benni’s flexible adhocracies as the ideal organizational form.
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The Contingency Approach to Organizational Theory

The Contingency Approach Opens in new window believes that managerial actions can be adjusted to demands of specific situations or circumstances. Organization design and managerial actions most appropriate to specific situations will have to be adopted to achieve the best possible result under the given situation.

There is no one best way to organize and manage. It is the basic function of managers to analyze and understand the environments in which they function before adopting their techniques processes and practices. The contingency approach guides the manager to be adaptive to environment.

The contingency approach states that neither the mechanistic forces nor the humanistic forces that gave solution to the problems faced by organizations but the synthesis of both that proved solution and act as a better guidance to managers.

The chief contributors to the contingency approach to organizational theory are:

  1. Herbert Simon who argued that the current organizational theory is mere oversimplification and superficial. Both the classical and human relations were merely proverbs and contradicted each other.
  2. Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn’s contributed the open-systems perspective to organization theory. They viewed organizations as an open adaptive system.
  3. Joan Woodward and Charles Perrow have stressed upon the importance of technology in determining the appropriate structure for organizations.

Political Approach to Organizational Theory

This approach focuses on the political nature of organizations. The chief contributors were:

  1. March and Simon’s Cognitive Limits to Rationality, which recognize the limits of a decision maker’s rationality and acknowledged the presence of conflicting goals.
  2. Pfeiffer’s Organizations as Political Arenas, proposed that control in organizations becomes an end rather than merely a means to rational goals. An organization’s design represents the result of the power struggles by these diverse coalitions.
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