Classical Organisation Theory

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Classical organisation represents one of the earliest efforts to develop a theory of management. Many of the principles of this system originated in ancient Roman military structure and have been modified for the purpose of modern business.

The system can be compared to an Egyptian pyramid, where the Chief Executive is at the apex. Each successive level has more people and less authority with the ‘workers and administrators’ forming the base of the pyramid. In a contemporary bureaucracy, this type of organization is called the hierarchy of authority. Theoretically, the chief executive officer oversees all activities of the corporation and each position has distinct and non-overlapping responsibilities.

The Manager's Role

Classical organization theory defines managers' roles through a system of very strict and specific rules:

Common Criticisms of Classical Organisation Theory

Let's examine these classical rules of organisation to see what criticisms have been made of them.

Managers should be responsible for supervising all essential activities within their departments.
While this rule may be effective in an emergency, many researchers point to the utility of shared leadership.

Managers' responsibilities should not be duplicated or overlapping.
Completely independent duplication of effort may increase waste but at the same time it can be argued that freedom to duplicate is basic to a competitive system. Three planners will not only provide a variety of creative choices but increase the possibility of a solid backup system.

No one manager should have too numerous or complex duties.
Although this rule is economically sound and a stimulus to efficiency, it is contrary to the need for job challenge, job opportunity, job interest and job involvement.

Managers' responsibilities should be written down and clearly understood.
All though this rule provide strict understanding of what needs to be done, it can be too inflexible in changing times and can trigger disputes about responsibilities rather than objectives, and arguments about words instead of work.

Managers' authority to make decisions should be commensurate with responsibility for the decisions.
This statement ignores the fact that much authority is fuelled by respect, rather than by a particular position in the hierarchy. Additionally, the rule also promotes irresponsibility for organisational objectives, as people hide behind the statement: ‘"I did exactly as I was told".’

When managers delegate authority it should be delegated so that decisions take place as close as possible to the point of action.
A good rule, but the hierarchical organisation that results from the other rules takes decision-making to at least one level higher than the point of action.

Managers should have no more than five to seven employees reporting to them.
And so the pyramid grows! Messages initiated at the bottom of such a many-layered organization are unlikely to reach the top without distortion. The pyramidal hierarchy contributes a few satisfied managers and a multitude of dissatisfied staff. Current thinking is that empowered workers can lead to flatter and more efficient organisations.

All managers should know to whom they report and who reports to them.
The following statement was made by one executive officer of a large corporation:

"Chain of command looks good on paper but it is impractical. It is supposed to tell who takes orders from whom. The commanding officer is supposed to make decisions for the executive officers. The executive officer is authorised to make decisions for department heads. Department heads are supposed to make decisions for division heads. More often, it is the subordinates who are in better positions to make decisions affecting their own behaviour than their managers. In practice, this subservient plan or organisation is unlikely to work well if followed. More often than not, it is not followed.’"


Also see:
Business and Management Books
Psychology and Psychiatry Books


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