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Fundamentals of Organizational Theory

Paper Type: Free Assignment Study Level: University / Undergraduate
Wordcount: 1650 words Published: 21st Oct 2020

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The fundamental beliefs of classical organization theory can be encapsulated by the notion that organizations exist to accomplish production-related and economic goals.  Production or output/yield was the ultimate goal during this time of the Industrial Age. Classical theorists of the day asserted that there is one best way to organize for production and that "best" way can be found through systematic, scientific inquiry (Shafritz, 2017).  Another key tenet of classical organization theory is that production is maximized through specialization and division of labor. In the Classical Organization Theory reading "Of the Division of Labour" by Adam Smith the pin factory example illustrates how production and output are maximized by focusing on specific labor tasks. Smith asserts that the "greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour" seems to have been the effects of the division of labour (Smith: Article 2, p. 36).  In the story, this specialization and compartmentalization of specific tasks by multiple different workers yielded more output than if one individual workman undertook the task of making individual pins from start to finish.

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In Woodrow Wilson’s article “The Study of Administration” he explores the science of administration.  Wilson states that administration is “the most obvious part of the government, it is the government in action; it is the executive, the operative, the most visible side of the government" (Wilson, p.11).   Administration, according to Wilson, is a central and unitary process that can be studied and the “idea of the state is the conscience of administration” (Wilson, p.13).  Administration can be summarized as seeing every day new things which the state ought to do, and the next logical thing is to see clearly how it ought to do them (Wilson, p.13). Wilson posits that this justifies the need for the science of administration; seeking to straighten the paths of government and to make those pathways business-like, professional, and efficient. 

The basis for Wilson’s study of administration is not law but rather management.  The key question, however, was always who shall make law, and what should that law be? (Wilson, p.11).  The other question was how the law should be "administered with enlightenment, with equity, with speed, and without friction” (Wilson, p.11).   Administration is still art, but the ideal transformation to science is both feasible and worthwhile (Shafritz, 2017).  From a historical standpoint the first administrative periods were  that of absolute rulers, and of an administrative system adapted to absolute rule; the second administrative periods in history were that in which constitutions are framed to do away with absolute rulers and substitute popular control, and in which administration is neglected for these higher concerns; and the third period is that in which the sovereign people undertake to develop administration under this new constitution which has brought them into power (Wilson, p.14).  No one who possesses power was long at a loss on how to use it. The great and only question was who shall possess it?  These historical references illustrate to me that it is easier to use power and authority and to execute as a singular autocratic ruler because in my opinion there are fewer hurdles to jump through to get things done.  The latter is a process that I think is intentionally cumbersome and requires policy, protocol, and consistent procedures. There is scarce, according to Wilson, "a single duty of government which was once simple which is now not complex; government once had but a few masters, it now has scores of masters” (p.12).  In “The Study of Administration” Wilson states there seems to be no end to the tinkering of constitutions (p.15). Your ordinary constitution, according to Wilson, “will last you hardly 10 years without repairs or additions; and the time for administrative detail comes late” (Wilson, p.15).

Once a nation has embarked in the business of manufacturing constitutions, Wilson states it finds itself exceedingly difficult to close out that business and open for the public a bureau of skilled economical administration (p.15).  Administration “has become and will continue to be the heart of the problem of modern government” (Wilson, p.15).  Going back to the point I was making earlier, I think the goal of administration is to use power to help smooth out and navigate an intentionally complex political process objectively. 

Svara asserts in his article “Dichotomy and Duality” existing models, like in Wilson’s “The Study of Administration” have the problems of either poor fit with Empirical research or no normative blind spots, but each contributed to the new model (Svara, p.222). Wilson in his study stressed, according to Svara the need for administrators to exercise great powers, however, this "great power "cannot extend to formulation of policy (Svara, 1985).  To keep the separation and distinction opines Svara, insulation of administrative staff from elected officials is important, both to "eliminate corruption and also to avoid the inefficiency that results when elected officials interfere with the details of administration” (Svara, p.222).  The science of administration is about efficacy and efficiency, in my opinion, and not becoming unnecessarily encumbered by politics. In the new model exposed in Svara’s article, policy refers to “middle-range policy decisions like how to spin government revenues, whether to initiate new programs or create new offices, how to distribute services at what levels within the existing range of services provided” (p.225).  Interaction or what I would characterize as collisions between administrators and policymakers are common in the new policy as administrators give advice and make recommendations to elected officials.

Administration, according to Svara, refers to the specific decisions, regulations, and practices employed to achieve policy objectives and, as one would expect, is largely the domain of the political machinery or bureaucracy (Svara, 1985).  Management “refers to the actions taken to support the policy and administrative functions” (Svara, p. 227).  Management includes controlling and utilizing the human, material, and informational resources of the organization to best advantage, this type of management is like that expressed in early classical organizational theory (Svara, 1985).  Svara states that “management encompasses the specific techniques used in generating services and management is largely devoid of policy, even though management systems are not neutral and their effect on internal distribution of resources in the organization” (p.227).  The mission, policy, administration, and management are the four functions of the governmental process (Svara, 1985). Although each function blends into the other to form a pure policy continuum to pure management, Svara states that each function has been distinguished conceptually (Svara, p, 227).  Management is the province of the manager.

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Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management

Taylor's “Principles of Scientific Management” is premised on the notion that there was one best way of accomplishing any given task (Shafritz, 2017).  Scientific Management sought to increase output by using special staff to discover the fastest, most efficient, and least fatiguing production methods. Taylor insisted in his “Principles of Scientific Management” that management does not necessarily involve any great invention, nor the discovery of new or startling facts (Taylor, 1911). Nevertheless, it did involve a certain combination of elements which have not existed in the past, namely, knowledge so collected, analyzed, grouped and classified into laws and rules that is it constitutes a science (Shafritz, 2017).

Wilson wanted the study of public administration to focus not only on the problems of personnel management, as many other reformers of the time had advocated, but also on organization and management in general.  Wilson thought that public administration should be premised on the science of management and separate from traditional politics (Wilson, 1887).  I agree with the premise posited by Wilson in that administration should be separate from political consideration because I believe it is important for processes to stay above the political fray, so to speak.  Politics, in my opinion, are driven by the will of the people.  Management, processes, and administration should be governed by standards and practical policies.

Lastly in the Production Line video, similar to Adam Smith's Pin Factory example of the division of labor and specialization of old, the Model T Ford assembly line is efficient because of how the parts are assembled separately and put together.  Henry Ford is noted in the video as creating the 8-hour workday and which he could have three different shifts where cars could be made and manufactured around the clock.  I think this is managerial genius from an economic standpoint.


  • Scientific Management - Production Line Example
  • Shafritz, Jay M., et al. Introducing Public Administration. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.
  • Smith, A. “Classical Organization Theory” Part 1: Article 2: Of the Division of Labour”
  • Svara, J. (1985). Dichotomy and Duality: Reconceptualizing the Relationship between Policy and Administration in Council-Manager Cities. Public Administration Review, 45(1), 221-232.
  • Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management Frederick W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper Bros., 1911): 5-29
  • Wilson, W. (1887). The Study of Administration. Political Science Quarterly, 2(2), 197-222.


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