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 thought. 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
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government, military, hospitals, banks) and at any level of management
(Grey, 1999).

The last important contributor to classical theory is Weber (1947) who observed the mechanisation of industry. Through his work he identified the first comprehensive definition of bureaucracy as a form of organisation that emphasises precision, speed, clarity, regularity, reliability, and efficiency. These are achieved through the creation of fixed division of tasks, hierarchical supervision, and detailed rules and regulations.

Overall, the classical approach is characterised by division of work, establishment of hierarchy of authority, and span of control. For classical theorists, these components were of utmost importance in the achievement of an effective organisation (Cole, 2004). If we implement these principles, as Morgan (1997) suggests, we arrive at an organisation with a pattern of precisely defined jobs organised in a hierarchical manner through precisely defined lines of command or communication. There are is shortage of critiques of this classical approach.
Firstly, it is significant that the classical theorists gave relatively little attention to the human aspects of organisation
(Morgan, 1997). In particular, they can result in mindless and unquestioning bureaucracy; and can have dehumanising effects upon employees (Morgan, 1997).

Secondly, the classical theory has its limitation for
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