Making Sense of Organisations — Classical, Neo-classical and Post-Modernism

Keywords: Theories of organisation behavioural perspective, Organisational cultural and change, Modernism, symbolic and post-modernism, Theories of organisation and environment, Design and structure of organisation, Organisation theory – Power and politics

This essay explores the notions of the organisation and management using a range of the theoretical perspective. It examines the classical and neoclassical organisational behaviour theories along with postmodernism theories to develop rigorous perceptive on a different approach and their application in organisation along with contribution towards the success of the organisation.

Introduction — Organisation Theory

According to Klikauer (2016), the organisational theory involves the study of the organisational design and structure, its relationship with the external environment as well as the behaviour of the managers in an organisation. Dalton (2014) added that the identification of the patterns and structures in order to resolve the problems, productivity and efficiency as well as meeting the expectation of the stakeholders is critical for organisation functioning and therefore, organisational theories highlight the best way to manage the organisation.

Classical and Neoclassical Organisation theory  

 The classical organisational theories revolve around three areas which are a bureaucratic theory, scientific management and administrative theory. The scientific management theories are concerned with the management of the employees whereas administrative management is concerned with structure and control of the organisation (Shafritz and Jang, 2015).

Hatch & Cunliffe (2013) studied that the scientific management theory was proposed by the Frederick Taylor (1911) which highlights four principles which are; 1) designing the best way to job; 2) matching employee to the job; 3) close supervision, and 4) reward and punishment through effective planning and control. The impact of the Taylor theory helps the organisation to increase their production through matching best people and equipment and designing effective processes.

Nevertheless, the Taylor theory was successful in the industrialisation era but did not fit with the modern organisations. The approach which put product ahead of people resulted in dissatisfaction at work as well as declining quality and performance of the employees (Daft, 2015).

According to Thompson (2014) to overcome the organisational problems and reinforce the administrate control; Max Weber (1947) extends the work of the Frederick Taylor to focus on the need of the diversity along with ambiguity in an organisation. The emphasis was on the establishment of a clear line of authority and control representing hierarchy structure of the power. The set of rules and procedures ensure the uniformity and stability in the organisation based on the hierarchy structure.

Moreover, Max Weber theory highlighted that the organisational behaviour is based on the unique network of the human behaviours and the basis to understand the human behaviour is determined through causes and effect. The classical management theory focuses on the mechanistic and rigid approach. The critical problem of the scientific management approach is that it linked the motivation to work with strict economic rewards (Mahmood et al., 2015).

Hatch & Cunliffe (2013) discussed that another important theory of modern management was present by Fayol (1987) presented five components of the management functions which are planning, organizing, commanding, controlling and commanding. The first modern theory of management was proposed by the Barnard (1968) which defines the organisation as a system of planned and coordinated activates based on the atmosphere for purpose and value. The theory suggests that manager authority is derived from the level of acceptance of subordinates rather the rigid hierarchy control (Bratton & Gold, 2015).

Peaucelle & Guthrie (2016) elaborated that the theories of the Web, Taylor and Barnard share the common objectives of the management which is planning and control for equilibrium in an organisation which is based on the environment and manipulation of the workers. The strict and authoritarian style and structure of the classical management has resulted in evolution of the human relation in management.

Dobbin & Baum (2014) mentioned that the neo-classical management theories address the inherent problem of the classic theory which is rigidity and conformity. Neo-classical emphasis on the human needs and focused on the motivation, individual growth as well as creativity in an organisation.

The critiques of the classical organisational theory are that it assumes that employees do not control and power over their job, as well as working conditions and the subordination, is short-term perspective.

Theories of organisation behavioural perspective

According to Griffin & Moorhead (2014), the postmodernism theories are based on the assumption that organisation serves human needs and therefore, organisation and people need each other. The good fit between the organisation and individual is likely to benefit the both through meaning work and satisfying human needs whereas organisation develops resources and energy to achieve its objective.

Thornton et al (2012) added that the focus of the behaviour theories is seeking an answer to the question how it enables the people to grow and develop. People consider important resource and more valuable than the organisation itself, i.e. between the two is based on the dependence of the codependnece. The employees are given free information to make a decision about their future.

The organisation is not taken as an independent variable but it rather influence the behaviour of the human in the same way as behaviour shape the organisations. The two important theories are Maslow hierarchy of needs which defines five set of goals which are basic needs, physiological needs, safety and love esteem and self-actualization (DuBrin, 2013).

Robbins et al (2014) analysed that the classical and neo-classical approach view the conflict as an interference with the equilibrium in an organisation but the contingency theorist believe that conflict is manageable in an organisation. Chandler (1962) suggests that the evolution of the organisation is based on the organisation need to meet the strategy and i.e. organisations perform and adapt in sequential, rational and linear manner to align to its environment. The ability of the organisation to adapt its environment highlights the effectiveness of the management (Gavetti, 2015).

Lawrence and Lorsch (2016) analysed and evaluated the processes of how organisation aligned to its environment and i.e. role of the managers to make efficient decisions which are contingent on the current situation and scenario of the company. The systems of the organisation are interrelated with its environment and therefore, different environments require different relationship for the working of the organisation.

Gavetti et al (2015) supported that the contingencies theories highlight that there is no single best way to manage the organisation and leadership style effective in one situation may not be effective in other situation.

Therefore, the leadership style is contingent to the internal and external environment of the organisation. This enclosed how organisation adapts to the environment such as differences in the operational activities and resources, technologies’ and strategies (Dinh et al., 2014).

Organisational cultural and change

According to Carlstrom & Ekman (2015), organisational culture is composed of many intangibles such as values, beliefs, perceptions, behaviour norms, artefacts and assumptions which develop pattern of behaviours. The understanding of the organisation under the lens of the cultures examines the values, belief and attitude of the members.

Luhman & Cunliffe (2014) added that the cultural variations in the organisation are created through misunderstanding among the groups. Organisation is composed of many sub-systems which may hinder the progress of the organisation. Culture as metaphor explains the organisation as expressive forms along with manifestation of the human consciousness

Culture in an organisation is about making sense as well as sustained through interactions and communications. Moreover, culture enclosed ritual and stories which highlight the understanding of the organisation in terms of how it makes sense to its environment (Green, 2015).

The culture is the organisation essence and based on three elements which are complex (belief and attitudes), communicative and interactions as well as subcultures (experience and characteristics). Organisational culture is interpretation of organisational phenomena based on the shared beliefs and values which consequently affect the human behaviour (Griswold, 2016).

Bratton et al (2015) examined that the critique of the organisational culture by Karl Marx stated the organisational knowledge is not objective or subject to the power structure of the organisation but it rather involves inner working the organisation and relationship of its people associated with imbalance of power.

Organisation reforms require changes in the culture and unwanted values, rigidity, power and authority existence based on the closed networks formed the barriers which effect the lasting change (Brooker, 2014).

Hatch (2015) explained that the members of the organisation usually hold similar values and beliefs and follow the principles and procedures which failed to serve the organisation needs. Therefore, the need is to replace these to change this culture and develop cooperation among the members of the organisation for flexibly, responsiveness, empowerment as well as diversity which is valued by the organisation.

The organisational cultural perspective challenges the rational perspectives which are system and environment theories, organisational structure and economies to understand why how organisation make decisions based on the rational analysis and understand the behaviour of the people in organisation (Schabracq, 2014).

Consequently, organisational cultural perspective suggested that modern structural of the organisation based on the economic and environment is the wrong approach and tools to understand and predict the behaviour of the organisation.

Taylor et al (2015) added that the major theories which study the organisation culture were presented by the ‘Deming’ which present management principles’ and ‘Juran’ who emphasise on the quality as part of the management. The Edgar Schein perceptive of organisation culture and leadership as well as Ralph Kilmann approaches ‘control and corporate culture is significant.

The relationship between the organisation and culture is the same as the individual and personality which highlight the underlying theme to set direction and mobilisation of resources. The key area studies under the culture perspective of the organisation were learning organisation, total quality management and balance scorecard (Schein, 2016).

Dobbin and Baum (2014) discussed that the fundamental principle is to increase the flexibility and productivity, empowerment of employees, coordination among the employees and autonomy. The objective is to eliminate the layer of the hierarchy and make the organisation flat.

The strength of the organisation culture theory is that it helps to understand the external environment in better manner explains the symbolism in the organisation and integrate and blend human relation in the organisation.

The problem associated with these theories that overemphasis on the external environment as well as the identification and measurement of the organisational culture is difficult and i.e. making less rational approach (Shafritz and Jang, 2015).

Modernism, symbolic and post-modernism

DuBrin (2015) explained that the symbolic Interpretivism extends the empirical reality beyond the reach of the five organisational senses and includes emotion and institutions. Symbolic interpretivism examines the scenario and focus on the meaning, in particular, context and therefore, there a generalization of the finding beyond their context is difficult.

Brooker (2014) stated that the modernist critique the symbolic Interpretivism highlighting that problem if knowledge created cannot be replicated beyond original context then it would not make sense. Symbolic Interpretivism in comparison with generalizability stated that contributions made to knowledge based on the own experience and expertise in relation to the experience of others.

Smith and Smith (2016) examined that the modernist argues that subjectivity undermines the scientific rigidity whereas symbolic interpretive highlighted that subjectivity cannot be ignored to understand the meaning. The modernist critique the subjectivity approach stating that it adds bias and hinder the rational ideas. Therefore, modernist focus on the objectivity associated with ontological assumptions.

Lash (2014) added that the postmodern perspective contradicts the modernism (Scientific endeavour) and subjective Interpretivism (human meaning for activities) and focuses on the perspectives which are unwillingness to seek the truth. The postmodernism takes the philosophical stand. The modernist perspective study the organisation as independent objectivity entity and to generate the knowledge it takes the positivist approach.

The modernist focus is how to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation and these theories are related to the planning and control. The symbolic Interpretivism examines the organisation as community-based on the human relations and i.e. takes on the subjective ontology (Bratton et al., 2015).

The modernist approach to organisation is as an objective which analysed, measure and control the organisation, subjective Interpretivism treated the organisation which created and explore the realities for the meaning. Postmodernism focus theorising the organisation in border perspective including the way organisation writes and speaks and thus theorising the organisation and organisational theory (technology, structure and culture and control elements) (Amariglio, Cullenberg and Ruccio, 2016).

Theories of organisation and environment

The shift the focus of the organisation from the internal perspective to the external environment such look for interaction, competition and interdependence. The organisation is studied as a system based on the interdependence activities embedded in the wider environment of the organisation. The systems are designed to achieve specific goals as well as purpose (Dinh et al., 2014).

Carlström and Ekman (2012) added that the system theory suggests that the organisation components are interrelated and the changing in the one of the variable impact upon the other variables. Organisations are open systems which are in dynamic equilibrium along with continuing position of self-adapt to the external environment through interacting with the external environment.

According to system theory, organisations have a non-linear relationship among the variables. The changes in one small variable could have a substantial impact on the variables and larger changes might have a nominal impact on other variables and vice versa. The critique of the system theory suggests that it makes it difficult to understand the relationship between the variables because of non-linearity which adds further complexity (Miner, 2015).

Robbins et al (2016) added that System approach states that organisation is a system composed of an inter-related set of mutually dependent subsystems linking the goals, components and processes. The classical organisational theories view the organisation as ration but a closed system which is in pursued of the efficiency.

However, system theories highlighted that organisations are not static but rather requires dynamic adaptive equilibrium to integrate to the external environment. The organisation needs to adapt to the external environment in order to survive and consequently its decisions and actions effects their environment. The system approach is strong based on the causes and effect (positivist philosophy) and has closed relation with the scientific approach to the management (Hatch and Cunliffe, 2015).

Watson and Korczynski (2015) explained that institutional theory argued that the world is composed of ideas and conceptions which are validated the social meaning to of the reality. Therefore, administrative structure and technologies coordinate the complex process and structure of the organisation.

Hence, this creates the beliefs and institutions to reinforce various actors and forces. The organisation life changes over the time periods which ensure the conformity to the norms as well as build the social expectation from institutional environment.

Design and structure — Theories of organisation and environment

According to Kahn and Katz (2015, p. 407) the scientific perspectives of the organisation as closed system fail to evaluate the interdependencies as well as the interaction between the organisation and its environment.

The open system approach is in contrast with another approach because traditional organisational theories viewed the human organisation as the closed system and i.e. this has disregarded environment and dependency of the organisation on the environment.

This represents the overconcentration on the principles of the organisation functions and fails to understand the value of the feedback in an organisation which is essential for the organisation survival (O’Neil and Drillings, 2016).

Meyer et al (2012) highlighted that organisational culture and institutions affect the environment of the organisation because the modern world is comprises of socially constructed practices as well as the norms which provide the framework for the organisation structure. The institution myth gives rise to the structure of the organisation and it must support the institution myths.

Dalton (2014) explained that the strength of the approach is that open systems consider both internal and external environment and thus resulting in an attempt to define multi-dimension and intertwined approach.

On the other hand, the problems of the organisation and environment theories are that control locus is largely external and deemphasizes on the closed and rational system. The basic underlying assumption for the organisation and environment approach in closed system is use of the technology (Landy and Conte, 2016).

Organisation theory – Power and politics

Miller and Power (2013) debated that the organisation is built from the complex systems which are derived from the coalition and individual needs each having values, beliefs, perception as well as preferences. Therefore, there is continuous competition for the scarce resources. The goals of the organisation are developing through bargaining among the individuals rather by the people who are an informal authority.

The coalitions in the organisation are transitory and shift through vertical and horizontal directions of the organisation with the objective to achieve a balance of power among the coalition. The power relations are a permanent feature of the organisation because it viewed as a power in all direction of organisation rather vertical influence only (Luhman and Cunliffe, 2012).

Peaucelle and Guthrie (2016) stated that the power in the organisation includes control over the resources as well as the ability to work with organisational rules and capability. According to Kantor executives and managers are necessary for the control and moving of the organisation to achieve its goals and objectives.

The power in an organisation is defined through three hierarchy structures which are line supervisors, professional staff and top executives. The power in an organisation is enclosed to consequences but the balance of power and empowering other could result in productive power which helps to achieve the organisational goals (Klikauer, 2015).

Brooker (2014) defines that in organisation in today world have an increasing gap between the power need to get the job done and the power associated with the job. The power is first and important structural phenomena in an organisation and it influence the people to get the job done in such way the job should be done by the people. The theme of the power and political is critical to understand the behaviour of the organisation.

According to Mintzberg the organisational behaviour is based on the power game and the influences are the players with personal needs who attempt to control the organisation decision. The influences define the behaviours of the organisation and that power helps to fulfil the objectives of the organisation. The internal coalition in the organisation is based on the managers, analyst and support staff whereas the external coalitions is based on the associations (agency theory), public and shareholder of the company (Smith and Smith, 2016).


The organisation in today’s era has changed significantly and there4 are a number of forces which affect and provoke change in the organisation. The factors such diversity, expectations of the employees, external environment and technologies are setting the new paradigm for the organisation.

The classical organisational theories proposed the rigid control and authority and focus was on the productivity and efficiency. However, this approach lost it significance with the emergence of the needs of the humans and theories of human behaviour set stage for the evolution of the organisation and achieve the organisation objectives.

The emergence of the postmodern theories helps to understand the organisation environment and value of its stakeholders in a broader perspective. These theories reflect the need of the modern era organisation and how it effectively achieves its objectives.

Thus, there is no right or wrong approach but it rather dependent on the situation of the organisation to balance and align the organisation in terms of power, environment and culture of the organisation.


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