Organizational theory

theory of organizations
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Organizational theory is a loosely knit community of many approaches to organizational analysis. Its themes, questions, methods, and explanatory modes are extremely diverse.

Network self-organization stages
CONTENT : A - F , G - L , M - R , S - Z , See also , External linksHPPS:/404


Quotes are arranged alphabetically by author

A - F

  • The models of management which individuals and organizations use come from a variety of sources. Sometimes the model comes from a theory. The theory may emerge from someone's thoughts about the desired characteristics of a manager, or about the characteristics of competent managers. Sometimes the model comes from a panel. A group of people, possibly in the job or at levels above the job within the organization, generates a model through discussion of what is needed to perform a management job competently.
    • Richard Boyatzis (1982) Competent manager : a model for effective performance. New York, John Wiley & Sons. p. 7.
  • Until the mid-1970s, the prominent approach in organization and management theory emphasized adaptive change in organizations. In this view, as environments change, leaders or dominant coalitions in organizations alter appropriate organizational features to realign their fit to environmental demands (e.g. Lawrence and Lorsch 1967; Thompson 1967; Child 1972; Chandler 1977; Pfeffer and Salancik 1978; Porter 1980; Rumelt 1986). Since then, an approach to studying organizational change that places more emphasis on environmental selection processes, introduced at about that time (Aldrich and Pfeffer 1976; Hannan and Freeman 1977; Aldrich 1979; McKelvey 1982), has become increasingly influential. The stream of research on ecological perspectives of organizational change has generated tremendous excitement, controversy and debate in the community of organization and management theory scholars. Inspired by the question, Why are there so many kinds of organizations?
    • Joel A. C. Baum, "Organizational ecology." in: Stewart Clegg ed. Studying Organization: Theory and Method (1999): 71-108. p. 71; lead paragraph
  • Today perhaps the most popular organizational theory is institutional theory.
    • Richard M. Burton, ‎Bo Eriksen, ‎Dorthe Døjbak Håkonsson (2006). Organization Design: The Evolving State-of-the-Art.
  • Organization theory is the branch of sociology that studies organizations as distinct units in society. The organizations examined range from sole proprietorships, hospitals and community-based non-profit organizations to vast global corporations. The field’s domain includes questions of how organizations are structured, how they are linked to other organizations, and how these structures and linkages change over time. Although it has roots in administrative theories, Weber’s theory of bureaucracy, the theory of the firm in microeconomics, and Coase’s theory of firm boundaries, organization theory as a distinct domain of sociology can be traced to the late 1950s and particularly to the work of the Carnegie School. In addition to sociology, organization theory draws on theory in economics, political science and psychology, and the range of questions addressed reflects this disciplinary diversity. While early work focused on specific questions about organizations per se – for instance, why hierarchy is so common, or how businesses set prices – later work increasingly studied organizations and their environments, and ultimately organizations as building blocks of society. Organization theory can thus be seen as a family of mechanisms for analysing social outcomes.
    • Gerald F. Davis (2013). "Organizational theory," in: Jens Beckert & Milan Zafirovski (eds.) International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, p. 484-488
  • If you peruse the table of contents of a textbook on organizational theory or search the web for courses in organizational sociology, you cannot help but notice how many of the key contributors to the field spent time at Stanford between 1970 and 2000, as faculty members, post-docs, or graduate students... Of the five most influential macro-organizational paradigms in play today — institutional theory, network theory, organizational culture, population ecology, and resource dependence theory (in alphabetical order) – Stanford served as an important pillar, if not the entire foundation, for all but network theory. By the 1990s, it became an important site for network theory as well.
  • Organizational theory is one of the most vibrant areas in sociological research. Scholars from many subfields, (medical sociology, political sociology, social movements, education) have felt compelled to study organizational theory because of the obviously important role that complex organizations play in their empirical research. But scholars who do not do organizational theory are often struck at how arcane the debates are within organizational theory. They also think most of organizational theory is about firms and thus, the theory does not seem to have much application to other kinds of social arenas.
    • Neil Fligstein (2010). Organizations: Theoretical Debates and the Scope of Organizational Theory. University of California Berkeley.
  • Organizational theories have three origins: Max Weber’s original work on bureaucracies which came to define the theory for sociologists, a line of theory based in business schools that had as its focus, the improvement of management control over the work process, and the industrial organization literature in economics. Unlike many fields in sociology, organizational theory has been a multidisciplinary affair since World War II, and it is difficult to understand its central debates without considering its linkages to business schools and economics departments.
    • Neil Fligstein (2010). Organizations: Theoretical Debates and the Scope of Organizational Theory. University of California Berkeley.

G - L

  • To some, organizational theory is a field of study; to others, it is the process of using metaphorical language to describe organizational processes.
    • Steve M. Jex, ‎Thomas W. Britt (2008). Organizational Psychology: A Scientist-Practitioner Approach. p. 412
  • Traditional organizational theories have tended to view the human organization as a closed system. This tendency has led to a disregard of differing organizational environments and the nature of organizational dependency on environment. It has led also to an over-concentration on principles of internal organizational functioning, with consequent failure to develop and understand the processes of feedback which are essential to survival.
  • The concept of leadership has an ambiguous status in organizational practice, as it does in organizational theory. In practice, management appears to be of two minds about the exercise of leadership. Many jobs are so specified in content and method that within very broad limits differences among individuals become irrelevant, and acts of leadership are regarded as gratuitous at best, and at worst insubordinate
  • The approach that dominates organizational theory, teaching, and practice for most of the twentieth century looked at organizations from the top-down, starting with a view of the CEO as the "leader" who shapes the organization's strategy, structure, culture, and performance potential. The nature of work and the role of the workforce enter the analysis much later, after considerations of technology and organization design have been considered. However, if the key source of value in the twenty-first-century organization is to be derived from the workforce itself, an inversion of the dominant approach will be needed. The new perspective will start not at the top of the organization, but at but at the front lines, with people and the work itself — which is where value is created. Such an inversion will lead to a transformation in the management and organization of work workers, and knowledge. This transformation was signalled by McGregor, but we must go further.
  • The management system of an organization must have compatible component parts if it is to function effectively. This conclusion has a very important implication; experiments in organizations must involve internally consistent changes. The traditional atomistic research design is not appropriate for experiments involving organizational theory or management systems. Every aspect of a management system is related to every other part and interacts with it.
    The results obtained by altering a single variable or procedure while keeping all others the same usually will yield quite different results from those obtained when that variable is changed along with simultaneous and compatible changes in all other aspects of the management system. The true influence of altering one aspect of the system cannot be determined by varying it and it alone... In experiments involving organizational theory and management systems, therefore, a systems approach must be used. The organic integrity of each system must be maintained while experimental variations are being made.

M - R

  • The purpose of spending years developing an organizational theory is the hope that it will lead to improvements in organizations.
  • Classical organization theory suffers from "{{w|ethnocentrism}}": It ignores the significance of the political, social, and economic milieu in shaping organizations and influencing managerial practice.
    • Douglas McGregor (1960), The Human Side of Enterprise; p. 16. Annotated Edition, 2006, p. 23.
  • Theory is a dirty word in some managerial quarters. That is rather curious, because all of us, managers especially, can no more get along without theories than libraries can get along without catalogs — and for the same reason: theories help us make sense of incoming information.
    • Henry Mintzberg (2005) Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. p. 249
  • Technology has always been a central variable in organizational theory, informing research and practice. Despite years of investigative effort there is little agreement on the definition and measurement of technology, and no compelling evidence on the precise role of technology in organizational affairs. I will argue that the divergent definitions and opposing perspectives associated with technological research have limited our understanding of how technology interacts with organizations, and that these incompatibilities cannot be resolved by mutual concession. What is needed is a reconstruction of the concept of technology, which fundamentally re-examines our current notions of technology and its role in organizations.
    • Wanda J. Orlikowski, "The duality of technology: Rethinking the concept of technology in organizations." Organization science 3.3 (1992): p. 389
  • The domain of organization theory is coming to resemble more of a weed patch than a well-tended garden. Theories of the middle range (Merton, 1968; Pinder and Moore, 1979) proliferate, along with measures, terms, concepts, and research paradigms. It is often difficult to discern in what direction knowledge of organizations is progressing — or if, it is progressing at all. Researchers, students of organization theory, and those who look to such theory for some guidance about issues of management and administration confront an almost bewildering array of variables, perspectives, and inferred prescriptions.
  • From the beginning, the forces of light and the forces of darkness have polarized the field of organizational analysis, and the struggle has been protracted and inconclusive. The forces of darkness have been represented by the mechanical school of organizational theory— those who treat the organization as a machine. This school characterizes organizations in terms o£ such things as:
  • centralized authority
  • clear lines of authority
  • specialization and expertise
  • marked division of labor
  • rules and regulations
  • clear separation of staff and line
The forces of light, which by mid-twentieth century came to be characterized as the human relations school, emphasizes people rather than machines, accommodations rather than machine-like precision, and draws its inspiration from biological systems rather than engineering systems. It has emphasized such things as:
  • delegation of authority
  • employee autonomy
  • trust and openness
  • concerns with the "whole person"
  • interpersonal dynamics
The forces of darkness formulated their position first, starting in the early part of this century. They have been characterized as the scientific management or classical management school...
  • Charles Perrow (1973), "The short and glorious history of organizational theory." Organizational Dynamics 2.1 : 3-15.

S - Z

  • Another forerunner of modern organization theorists was Andrew Ure, a professor of chemistry. An enthusiastic proponent of “the factory system,” Ure (1835) took a step beyond Adam Smith. Whereas Smith’s pin factory was solely an example of division of labor, Ure pointed out that a factory poses organizational challenges. He asserted that every factory incorporates “three principles of action, or three organic systems”: (a) a “mechanical” system that integrates production processes, (b) a “moral” system that motivates and satisfies the needs of workers, and (c) a “commercial” system that seeks to sustain the firm through financial management and marketing. Harmonizing these three systems, said Ure, was the responsibility of managers.
    • William H. Starbuck and Philippe Baumard (2005). "The seeds, blossoming, and scant yield of organization theory," in: Haridimos Tsoukas, Christian Knudsen (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory. p. 149-150
  • “Organization theory,” a term that appeared in the middle of the twentieth century, has multiple meanings. When it first emerged, the term expressed faith in scientific research as a way to gain understanding of human beings and their interactions... The term “organization theory” also indicated an aspiration to state generalized, abstract propositions about a category of social systems called “organizations,” which was a very new concept.
    • William H. Starbuck and Philippe Baumard (2009). "The seeds, blossoming, and scant yield of organization theory," in: Jacques Rojot et. al (eds.) Comportement organisationnel - Volume 3 De Boeck Supérieur, p. 15
  • The modern period in organization theory is characterized by vogues, heterogeneity, claims and counter-claims.
    • Dwight Waldo (1978), Organization theory: Revisiting the elephant. (1978): 589-597.
  • The process of theory construction in organizational studies is portrayed as imagination disciplined by evolutionary processes analogous to artificial selection. The quality of theory produced is predicted to vary as a function of the accuracy and detail present in the problem statement that triggers theory building, the number of and independence among the conjectures that attempt to solve the problem, and the number and diversity of selection criteria used to test the conjectures.
  • Organizational theory is based on a culture's answers to questions about the self.
    • Danah Zohar (1997, p. 96), cited in: Kathleen Manning (2013), Organizational Theory in Higher Education. p. 182
  • Institutional theories of organization provide a rich, complex view of organizations. In these theories, organizations are influenced by normative pressures, sometimes arising from external sources such as the state, other times arising from within the organization itself. Under some conditions, these pressures lead the organization to be guided by legitimated elements, from standard operating procedures to professional certification and state requirement, which often have the effect of directing attention away from task performance.
    • Lynne G. Zucker (‎1987). "Institutional Theories of Organization," In: Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 13: 443-464

See also

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