A Theoretical Overview of the Central Concepts of Organization Theory



In this paper, a theoretical overview will be presented regarding nine fundamental concepts to the field of public administration. The concepts are: Motivation, Productivity, Diversity, Organizational Design and Structure, Internal and External Collaboration and Coordination, Decision-Making Processes, Communication, Power and Politics, and Organizational Culture. A brief overview of each concept will be provided followed by a list of questions that are relevant to these public administrative concepts and theories. This section of the paper serves as Part One of the Organizational Analysis assignment that is based on the nonprofit organization I worked previously which is the Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Humanitarian City.


In the field of public administration, the way managers motivate their employees is of vital importance. Managers create rewards systems that acknowledge employees' accomplishments. Regardless of sector, employees are all motivated by different means. Some employees are motivated by monetary rewards, while others seek internal gratification through their work. Frey and Osterloh (2002) explain that employees are either motivated through intrinsic (i.e. satisfaction and gratification) rewards or through extrinsic (i.e. monetary gain) rewards and that these two modes of motivation must be balanced accordingly by managers.

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Proper motivation is crucial to a person's levels of organizational commitment and job satisfaction. According to scholarly theorist Moon (2000), there is a positive association between proper motivational techniques and an employee's levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Managers who are not skillful at identifying their intrinsically motivated employees from their extrinsically motivated employees may suffer the detrimental effects of poor work performance, high turnover, absenteeism, low levels of organizational commitment, and low levels of job satisfaction (Tietjen & Myers, 1998).

There have been many theories of motivation published in the scholarly literature base. For example, motivation is a fundamental aspect of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow (1962) explained that a person has a certain number of needs and that these needs serve as motivators for the individual. One must have these needs met before they can move forward to the next level. Maslow (1962) stated that there were five levels of needs:

Psychological needs

Safety needs

Love and belongingness



In workplace environments, if an employee does not have their psychological and safety needs accommodated (i.e. food, water, home) then they are unlikely to be able to move on to the higher levels of self-esteem and self-actualization.

Motivation is distinctively different in the public sector when compared to the private sector. This distinctive difference spawns from the fact that the public sector has a different mission and a different goal than those in private sector industries (Buelens & Broeck, 2007). The public sector's primary mission and goal is to provide services to the public for the least amount of money possible. The mission and goal of the private sector is to make money. Those working in private sector industries are often more inclined towards extrinsic motivation versus intrinsic motivation; however, the different types of motivation exist in both sectors and managers must pay close attention to the ways their employees prefer to be motivated. Strong levels of organizational commitment and job satisfaction are necessary for success in all sectors.


Rice (2005) explains that "diversity is creating unparalleled workplace challenges" (p. 45). The reason for these challenges evolves from the fact that public administrators must administer services to everyone equally with equitable representation. Diversity has been defined in the literature as being the differences between a person's characteristics such as culture, level of educational attainment, age, gender, ethnicity, et cetera (Green, Lopez, Wysocki, and Kepner, 2009). There has been a historical male dominance within the public sector and women have been unequally represented, in particular (Stivers, 2002). The white male has been the gender that has been most represented in government and public administration.

In today's societies, diversity is increasing rather rapidly. As a result, we are living in a globalized nation that is based on innovative technological trends. Due to trends associated with globalization, cultures are interacting with one another now more than ever (Pitt, 2007). This increased interaction can be attributed to the fact that globalization has succeeded in breaking down geographical barriers, which has enabled quick, easy communication. Public administrators have had to respond to this phenomenon and continue to deliver services efficiently.

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The missions and goals of the public sector are vastly different than those associated with private sector businesses. Furthermore, there are also differences with accountability between the two sectors. Because of these innate differences, the public sector must abide more strictly by affirmative action policies than those in private sector working environments. For example, Rainey (2009) explains that "Dobbin and his colleagues found that public organizations have more provisions for due process, such as affirmative action programs, than do private organizations" (p. 99). Stivers (2002) explains that women have been suppressed in the workplace throughout history, particularly in the bureaucracy, and still do not earn as much as men or hold the positions that men do in organizations and businesses alike.


Achieving and sustaining high levels of productivity is important within both the public and private sectors. The literature that has been published about public sector agencies is indicative that transformational leadership styles are often adopted in attempts to increase worker productivity (Rainey, 2003). Leadership style has often been linked to job satisfaction and organizational commitment, which are two concepts that can influence productivity. Rainey (2009) explains that "clarifying goals for individuals and work groups can improve efficiency and productivity" (p. 148). Other scholarly theorists that have researched and published findings regarding productivity are Tangen. Tangen (2003) explains that those belonging to public sector organizations often utilize the concept of measuring performance to gauge success and/or failures with productivity.

Public administrative theories have been designed in an attempt to explain ways to increase productivity. For example, Fredrick Taylor's time and motion studies were conducted in order to find out if a division of labor approach to accomplishing tasks would increase productivity (Whitaker, 1981). Taylor focused on "one best way" to accomplish tasks productively. Other theorists, such as Douglas McGregor, formulated theories to explain the connection between productivity and human behavior. McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y theory explains how humans behave differently in regards to work and motivation. Shafritz, Ott, and Jang (2005) explain McGregor's work by stating that McGregor assumed Theory X people to be lazy and micromanagement was necessary to keep them working at productive levels. Theory Y individuals, however, are the opposite and often seek internal gratification through their work (Shafritz, Ott, & Jang, 2005).

Productivity within the public and private sectors is inherently different. This difference comes from the fact that the mission and goals of the public and private sector are not the same. Private sector industries generally place a primary emphasis on profit and profit only. Their levels of productivity are often measured through analyzing their profit to loss margins or through a cost-benefit analysis. Public sector organizations may measure productivity differently because their main goal is to provide the best services to the public for the least amount of cost possible. Things like "free riders" can decrease levels of productivity for the public sector. Efficiency can also be hindered because of exhaustive rules and regulations within public bureaucracies.

Organizational Design and Structure

Many bureaucracies have adopted different organizational designs (i.e. lateral, horizontal, and team-based) in attempts to enable "flexibility and adaptability" (Rainey, 2009, p. 208). The concepts and ideals of organizational design and structure have changed dramatically since the early days of public administrative research. For example, Argyriades (2010) explains that Max Weber's Ideal Bureaucracy was based on ways to deliver the most efficient services possible through a tall hierarchical structure that was designed to enforce exhaustive rules. Weber's Ideal Bureaucracy focused on top-down commands and specific expertise. Throughout the years, New Public Management theories have changed the way the traditional bureaucracy is operated (Moon, 2000). Currently, it is commonplace for public administrative offices to be designed as flat organizations that take outside environmental factors into consideration. Flat organizational designs and structures promote things like participatory decision making and team work environments.

In both sectors, public and private, there are formal and informal structures. Due to accountability constraints and pressures within the public sector, structures are often different. Public sector organizations are accountable to their elected officials and must implement the policies that are designed and signed into law (Beaumaster, 2009). Private sector industries do not have to abide by accountability measures of this nature; therefore, their structures are most likely different than those in the public sector. Both sectors, however, have their own distinctive cultures in every business or agency and these cultures can be seen with the human eye.

Collaboration and Coordination

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Collaboration with other entities is often a wise tactic for implementing services more efficiently and more effectively. Horne and Paris (2009) explain that collaboration with other organizations and businesses can be beneficial. Other theorists, such as Leonard and Hilgert (2007), explain that this process is beneficial in helping to realize the needs of societies and then address those needs through improvements and changes in the implementation stages of policy. In collaborative agencies, one would most likely observe a sharing of authority between managers and subordinates within the realm of decision making (Leonard & Hilgert, 2007). There are two types of collaboration: Internal and External. An external collaboration may entail working with stakeholders and other clients, whereas an internal collaboration would entail units inside an agency coming together to accomplish a certain task (Rainey, 2009).

Collaboration and coordination were developed relatively early on in the field of public administration and can be seen in classical theories of public management. Taylor's theories were indicative of collaborative efforts with his division of labor theory (Whitaker, 1981). Other early theorists, such as Chester Barnard, addressed the relationship between organizations in general and the theory of coordination. Barnard wrote in the The Functions of the Executive (1938) that an organization is "a system of consciously coordinated activities of forces of two or more persons" (p. 73). This is a sharp contrast to classical theories because Barnard's research was focused on how individuals could coordinate efforts and cooperative activities to advance an organization and make its capabilities stronger.

Collaborative and coordination efforts are prevalent and utilized in both the public and private sector; however, the efforts are often distinctively different. For example, nonprofit or public entities may team together like stakeholders in order to obtain public funding for the purpose of carrying out goods and services to the public. The private sector does not seek out grant funding as aggressively as those in the public and nonprofit sectors. Furthermore, private sector industries are not under the accountability constraints that those of the public sector are. Politics play a larger role in collaboration and coordination efforts within the public sector in comparison to the private sector. Those in the private sector are not held accountable to elected officials or the public.

Decision Making

Decision making procedures are fundamental concepts in both public and private sector entities. An agency's culture is often determined by its chosen process of decision making (Rainey, 2009). For example, agencies that choose to adopt a participatory decision making style will have a distinctively different culture than those agencies that abide by a strict, top-down, hierarchical approach to communication and decision making. Furthermore, to reiterate the importance of the approach to decision making in agencies, Leonard and Hilbert (2007) explain that methods of decision making are central to managerial functions.

Tall organizations that have adopted a top-down approach to management are least likely to permit or promote a participatory style to decision making. In tall organizational structures, decisions typically come straight from those in management positions without input from subordinates. Flat organizations have been designed in a way that is more conducive to participatory decision making because they encourage open communication and a team work environment. Herbert Simon (1948) coined the term "satisfice" in an attempt to explain how decisions are made in organizations and businesses. When a person engages in satisficing to make a decision, they generally have a limited amount of time and resources and they choose their ultimate decisions with a limited set of available resources. This is one theory of many that have been designed to explain how decisions are made in organizations. Theorists have explained that public administrators make decisions rationally, incrementally, and spontaneously.

Decision making within the public and private sectors occurs differently and for different reasons. Decision making in the public sector is usually made to change and/or improve a public service that has been designed and implemented to address a social issue. The private sector, however, makes decisions that are typically solely based on profit and margin. Moreover, decisions that are made within the public sector are often decentralized because there are many government actors in the decision making process. Government actors do not always play a role within private sector industries when it comes to making decisions.


Graber (2003) explains that communication can occur within organizations through the agency's rules and organizational structure, through written documents, and through face-to-face dialogue between managers and their subordinates. There are different types of communication. Agencies may adopt a horizontal communication style that encourages upward communication (Rainey, 2003). Other agencies that prefer for communication to not ignite strictly at the very top may adopt a vertical communication style, which encourages a downward approach to communication. Agencies that strive to communicate with external entities may utilize an outward approach to communication. An organization's culture and structure often determines how managers and employees communicate with each other.

Rogers and Argawala-Rogers (1976) explained that there are certain communication roles within organizations. Rainey (2003) elaborated on Rogers and Argawala-Rogers' findings by explain that there are four distinctive communication roles that people play: gatekeepers, opinion leaders, liaisons, and cosmopolites. Gatekeepers tend to control the flow of information between units, whereas opinion leaders are sought out by others in order to obtain information about making one's own opinion. Liaisons are like information transmitters and cosmopolites act as connectors between the external and internal environment bringing information in from the outside.

As with other elements that have been discussed thus far in this organizational overview, communication processes within the public sector differ from those in the private sector. These differences can be attributed to several factors. For example, communication processes will be different within the public sector because bureaucrats are accountable to their elected officials. Private sector employees are not held accountable by elected officials. Moreover, public agencies must adhere to the rules and regulations that accompany bureaucratic red tape.

Power and Politics

It is undeniable that power and politics are related. Furthermore, it is undeniable that politics has a certain amount of power over public bureaucracies. Theorists, such as Mumby (2001), have stated that communication processes are mediated by power and that power is a "defining, ubiquitous feature of organizational life" (p. 585). In the early days of public administration, bureaucracies were corrupt due to extreme amounts of coercive political power; although, policies have been designed and implemented in an attempt to deter coercive political power, it still exist because of the accountability relationship that is ever-so-prevalent between administrators and politicians. Politicians have a lot of influence over societies and Scott (2001) explains that the concept of power is related to such words as influence, control, and authority. Mumby (2001) explains that politics is power enacted and resisted.

Leonard and Hilgert (2007) explained the different sources of power. According to Leonard and Hilgert (2007), there are five sources from which power can derive from:

Reward power

Coercive power

Legitimate power

Expert power

Charismatic power

In my own words, reward power comes from the knowledge that a subordinate knows who has the power to administer rewards. This knowledge is utilized and the subordinate will behave accordingly in order to receive the reward. Coercive power, as discussed earlier, comes from a negative place where someone in a high position uses their power and prestige to get something accomplished in an underhanded fashion. Legitimate power comes from a positive place where a person is granted power and is respected by others. Expert power transpires from a person being in a powerful position because their expertise is needed. Charismatic power can be seen in transformational leaders. These people have a natural born quality that promotes leading through charismatic powers.

Politics play a much bigger role in the public sector than in the private sector. The reason for this powerful presence can be attributed to the fact that public administrators are held accountable by their elected officials. There is an undeniable connection between power, politics, and the bureaucracy. Politicians write and design policies in order to address social issues. Public administrators are responsible for the most important stage of policy and that is implementation. It is important to point out, however, that although politicians have power over public bureaucracies to a certain extent, administrators have power, as well. Administrators can implement policies at their discretion; therefore, in the event an administrator does not agree with a policy, they may deliberately engage in poor implementation tactics in an attempt to sabotage a program or policy (Beaumaster, 2009).

Organizational Culture

Trice and Beyer (1993) explain that organizational culture is the pattern of shared meaning in an organization. Schein (1992) explained that an organization's culture can be seen on three levels:


Basic values

Basic assumptions

Elaborating on Schein's theory, it is often possible to observe an organization's culture with the naked eye. For example, an organization's artifacts play a role in the make-up of the culture and artifacts can be seen. Artifacts may include, but are not limited to, certain things such as words, symbols, rituals, and ceremonies. Rainey (2003) explains that the next level, basic values, may not be as observable to the human eye. Employees within an organization share basic values about the way things ought to be and these feelings cannot necessarily be observed by the naked eye. Basic assumptions are the way the people within the organization believe the agency should operate. It is stated in the scholarly literature that culture is often measured through assessing four different traits:




Mission (Nier, 2008).

Organizational cultures can be informal or formal, as well. A formal culture may embrace a strict dress code that enforces everyday wear of business attire. This would be an example of an artifact. Informal cultures may be more accepting and encouraging of casual attire. These are just two examples of how cultures can operate and once they are developed they can be very hard to change. For example, it may be difficult for an informal agency to suddenly have to adapt to a formal dress code. In the event this change was not brought about wisely and incrementally, employees may become disgruntled and their levels of organizational commitment and job satisfaction may decrease.

Overall, cultures are basically the same in the public and the private sector because all agencies and businesses alike develop and adopt their own unique cultures. In both sectors, leadership styles, management styles, missions, goals, visions, structure, design, communication processes, decision making processes, internal and external environmental roles, et cetera, all play an equal role in the make-up of an organization's or business's culture; although, it is often the culture of private sector industries to concentrate on profit versus the common good.


Are the employees in my organization intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?

Are affirmative action policies strictly enforced for the purpose of meeting the requirements for a diverse staff?

How is productivity measured within my organization?

What is the design and organizational structure of my agency? Is it tall or flat?

How are external relationships collaborated and coordinated? Who is responsible for these efforts?

Does my agency promote a team work environment and a participatory approach to decision making? If not, what is the decision making process and who is in charge?

Do managers and subordinate communicate horizontally or vertically in my organization?

Is my agency controlled by coercive political powers? What type of power is most prevalent in my organization?

How does my agency's culture reflect my personal values? Is it formal or informal?