A Comparison of Classical Management Theorists and Contingency Theorists

A Comparison of Classical Management Theorists and Contingency Theorists

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A Comparison of Classical Management Theorists and Contingency Theorists

The management field is characterised by a wide variety of theories,
schools and directions. This essay examines the classical and
contingency schools of thought -- the approaches to organization that
have had the greatest impact on management today. Firstly the essay
delineates and criticises the important theories propounded by
classical writers. The essay continues with an account of the
contingency school, and finally evaluates its impacts on managerial

Up until about the late 1950s academic writing about organisational
structure was dominated by the classical management school. This held
that there was a single organisational structure that was effective in
all organisations. (Clegg & Handy, 1999). According to Holt (1999),
the classical school is characterised by ?being highly structured,
with emphasis on the formal organisation with clearly defined
functions and detailed rules, autocratic leadership, a rigid chain of
command and control by superiors? (Holt, 1999, p.137). The three
greatest proponents of classical theory were Taylor, Fayol, and Weber.
Each identifies detailed principles and methods through which this
kind of organisation could be achieved.

Taylor (1947) developed a systematic approach to called ?Scientific
Management?, which focused on efficient production. Through the study
of task movements, or ?time and motion studies? as it was known, he
recognized matching the correct worker to the task was crucial to
increasing work efficiency. Under this so-called Taylorism, emphasis
is placed on power confered to those in control. According to Morgan
(1997), this approach to work design is found in traditional forms of
assembly-line manufacturing and in production processes.

Another major sub-field within the classical perspective is
?Administrative Management,? set forth by Fayol (1949). While
Scientific Management took a micro approach, Fayol saw the macro
concepts, a body of knowledge which emphasised broad administrative
principles applicable to large organizations. In Fayol?s account,
management is conceptualised as consisting of five elements, namely
planning, organizing, command, co-ordination, and control. He also
developed 14 principles of management or organisation, the best-known
being division of work, unit...

... middle of paper ...

...ure. Academy of Management
Journal, 25 (3), 553-566.

Luthans, F. (1973). The Contingency Theory of Management: A path out
of the jungle. Business Horizons, 6, 67-72

Meyer, M.W. (1972). Size and the structure of organizations: A causal
analysis, American Sociological Review, 37, 434-441.

Pugh, D., Hickson, D., Hinings, R. & Turner, C. (1969). The context of
organization structures. Administrative Science Quarterly 14:91-114.

Pugh, D. & Hickson, D. (1996). Writers on organisations. London:

Robbins, S. & Barnwell, N. (2002). Organisation Theory: Concepts and
cases. Victoria, Australia: Pentice Hall.

Taylor, F.W. (1947). Scientific Management, Harper & Row.

Watz, T. (1996). Technology rules OK? A review of technological
determinism and contingency theory. Creativity and Innovation
Management, 5(1) 13-21.

Weber, M. (1947). The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. A.H.
Henderson and Talcott Parsons (eds.). Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Woodward, J. (1980). Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice,
second edition. New York: Oxford University Press


[1] Pugh et al.

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