Developments in organizations and their theory

A major function of the commentaries appended to the chapters of this edition is to discuss the changes in organizations and the changes in

different matter from changes in organizations, and the former might occur even if there were none of the latter (or vice versa). In any event, we need to distinguish the one from the other, and make clear which we are discussing at any given time.

“Schools” of Organization Theory

Surveys of organization theory frequently classify the writings on which they comment according to “schools.” A recent collection6 of writings on organization recognizes eight such “schools”: classical; neoclassical; organizational behavior (a.k.a. human resources); “modern” structural; systems, contingency, and population ecology; multiple constituen- cies/market organization; power and politics; organizational culture and symbolic management. What are we to make of all of this?

The notion of “schools,” applied to a field of science, is an old-fashioned idea that has worn out its usefulness in management and organization theory. In biology or geology, we do not have schools, but we do have specialized domains of knowledge and theory: for examples, molecular genetics, cell biology, developmental biology, and population genetics in biology; geophysics, paleontology, oceanography, and petroleum geology in geology. Unlike “schools,” these domains are not competing theories but sets of phenomena and knowledge about them that are sufficiently separable that they can be examined, at least for many purposes, independently, then related and given their proper place in a larger structure.

Theories in a science do change gradually, but at any given point in time only a few of them are at the frontier of conjecture and controversy. Moreover, only rarely do the advances of science involve the overthrow of major theories. What we normally see is steady accumulation in which theories, confronted with new bodies of fact and new phenomena, are strengthened, augmented, and modified. Even the great “revolutions” of relativity and quantum mechanics did not displace Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s equations from key positions in physical theory.

In the developments of organization theory represented by the “schools” listed above, I do not see any conceptual earthquakes, but I do see substantial and continuing progress, triggered by careful observation and sometimes experimentation. The so-called neoclassical theory, of which this book is supposed by Shafritz and Ott to be an example, did question some of the overgeneralized “laws” of the classical theory, and did propose carrying out organizational analysis in terms of decision-making, a somewhat novel, but not unprecedented, idea. But when we compare Administrative Behavior with the theory that preceded and followed it, we see that the hierarchy of authority and the modes of organizational depart- mentalization, to take two important examples, are still central concepts of organization theory. As the last half of Chapter II will make clear, these concepts continue to maintain this central role up to the present day.

For example, “modern” structural organization theory and contingency theory both continue to examine departmentalization. The former explores alternatives to pure hierarchy and unity of command (already questioned by the “neoclassicists”), proposing such forms as matrix organizations or organization by project. Contingency theory continues the exploration (initiated in the “proverbs” discussion of Chapter II of this book) of the way in which departmentalization depends on the technological, market, and other environments of the organization.

In a similar way, the concepts of systems, multiple constituencies, power and politics, and organization culture all flow quite naturally from the concept of organizations as complex interactive structures held together by a balance of the inducements provided to various groups of participants and the contributions received from them—a concept that originated with Barnard and is Farther developed in Chapter VI of this book and by the other “neoclassicists.” In particular, the notions of organizational culture and symbolic organization theory carry forward ideas that are discussed in this book in terms of the inducement-contribution network and the organizational identifications it generates.

Similar comparisons could be made with the other terms the recent literature introduces. I emphasize these continuities because the proliferation of terms in administrative theory, well beyond the numbers of new concepts these terms denote, has done a serious disservice to students, making complex and confusing what is perhaps rather straightforward. Confucius attached great importance to “the rectification of names”— putting the right label on things. We need to be less concerned with rectifying names than with avoiding the multiplication of names. We need to attach the same names to concepts wherever those concepts are used. If we do this, we find that we do not need separate representations for the eight “schools” of organization theory, but that they fit rather nicely as developments of a single conceptual framework. Of course, I have a certain partiality to the way in which that framework is described in Administrative Behavior, but it is more important that we learn to build our science in cumulative fashion than that any particular formulation of

Changes in Organizations

Earlier, I expressed the view that people inhabiting organizations today would not find either the organizations of two thousand years ago or those of the future wholly unfamiliar. However, this view has been challenged recently, particularly by those who see modem electronic computers and communication networks as harbingers of a great revolution in the nature of work and of organizations.14 Many of the new ideas focus on the dissociation of work from a common workplace because of the possibilities of remote communication.

For example, to the extent that work is not tied to a common workplace for organization members, it becomes easier for people to accept part-time employment in several organizations simultaneously, operating in a mode that lies somewhere between employment and consultation, or that resembles the putting-out system which preceded the factory system in weaving and other industries. The available data seems to show some increase in this kind of work pattern, which would certainly appear to have important implications for organizational identification and loyalty.

A related idea is that with easy communication of each with all, regardless of location, there will be more group participation in making decisions and solving problems. This idea has already spawned new products in the form of “groupware”—electronic software that is supposed to make it easier for groups of people to work together and to collaborate in generating reports and similar products, or to share access to common data banks. Networks would not have to be limited, of course, to single organizations, so that interorganizational communication and collaboration (e.g., e-mail and the World Wide Web) could be facilitated.

Another related idea is that the new communication networks make the traditional organizational hierarchy less important: messages can flow in all directions, horizontally as well as vertically. Some observers have attributed the recent downsizings of middle management to the waning importance of maintaining a single hierarchy of authority and communication.

Not all of the predicted changes are consequences of networking. Some of them are attributed to changing attitudes in society toward authority, and the demand f or democratization of traditional authority relations.

I will not try to comment on these developments and prospects at this point, but those mentioned and others will be taken up as appropriate in the commentaries to later chapters.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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