Organizations and the Limits of Organizational Theory

For a long time, the study of organizations has been undertaken. This dates back to classical times till the recent times where scientific management theories have been developed. Despite the spirited effort, all the theories have been identified to have flaws in one point or the other. In his book A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations, Christopher Grey highlights several weaknesses exhibited in the existing organizational theories. This paper intends to examine Grey’s theory and point out that surely, success will only be determined if organizations will engage in structural reforms.

By definition, an organization is a social environment, whose driving forces are set goals, objectives, and the strive towards achieving excellent performance. In an organization, there exists an organization design which is a design-oriented area that has the objective of recognizing tools and frameworks needed to make up an effective organization. There is also a structure of leadership and employees who are encouraged to participate in teamwork to promote growth, expansion, increase profits, therefore making it outstanding. Various methods will be applied for the organization to achieve the set goals and objectives, such as strategic human resource management, training, recruitment, motivation of employees through promotion, rewards or pay rise. All organizations are also committed to showing their customers that they are valued as well as their employees and stakeholders and will achieve this by offering quality services, products and recognizing their input in the organization (Aronson 1988). However, many organizations have continued to repeat their mistakes over and over again despite the theories that attempt to explain how organizations can succeed. In essence, according to Barzilai (2007) “Organizational theory is the study of organizations for the benefit of identifying common themes for the purpose of solving problems, maximizing efficiency and productivity, and meeting the needs of stakeholders” (par. 6). The types of organizational theories that have been formulated by different scholars over the years range from a wide variety of topics. The major concepts of organizational theory, however, include organizational processes, individual processes, and group processes. Therefore, this essay will analyze C. Grey’s arguments to explain why organizations continue to make the same mistakes and also talk about the limits of organizational theory.

Almost every organization theory has a limitation. The technology of management is usually based on organizational theory while at the same time focusing on the application of management in organizations that are in operation. The classical theory of organization also referred to as scientific management used scientific methods for the analysis of work and also to establish the determination factors of completing assigned tasks efficiently. Its basis was on four principles; the first one was to make sure that there was equitable distribution of labor, the second ensured the teamwork of laborers to be sure that allocated jobs were in line with ideology and policies, while the third was a scientific selection applied on teaching and training of workers, and finally the fourth being the development of a scientific approach for each employee’s piece of work. In general terms, this theory emphasized the cooperation among employees, training of employees, and a close study of duties assigned to employees. The major limitation of this theory is that workers are seen as machine parts, therefore, making it as a potential to exploit labor through, for instance, overworking. The other limitation is that senior duties for management have not been mentioned and it has also made assumptions on motivational areas.

Human relations theory was formulated to understand how the social and psychological factors work together to influence the performance of employees. About that, it has been observed, through studies that workers seem to work efficiently under the supervision of their leaders (Bowen 2008). This same theory also goes ahead to stress that employees should be motivated and their welfare monitored while ensuring effective communication takes place by the managers. By stressing on the intense supervision and the ever-present manager around the employees, then this theory has forgotten the fact that workers perform better when they are relaxed and happy. It has also not taken into consideration the rational side of workers and the contributions of the organization towards productivity.

Bureaucracy in itself carries lots of disadvantages in that does not encourage variability especially when managers or leaders in the same organization have different skills and are pursuing different goals. It is all about following routines, rules, and regulations, making it dehumanizing. This results in limitations such that there is a lack of flexibility, decision making takes long (Friedman 2005) and it does not appreciate the strength of interpersonal skills in an organization.

The systems theory equates an organization to a managed system that stresses on management to interact with their working environment. It also states that the goals of an organization should deal with efficiency together with effectiveness. The only limitation to this theory is that it does not give guidance to the specific managerial roles and functions (Massey 2009).

Contingency theory states that situational contingencies influence processes that would encourage good performance in an organization (Smith 2008). The limitation here is that all contingencies have not been recognized and that this theory is not necessarily applicable to all issues of management.

Organizational behavior theory is mainly concerned with the activities of management that encourage the effectiveness of employees. It also promotes the relationship between managers and fellow employees. However, the limitations of this theory are that some of the approaches employed have ignored technological and environmental factors; also referred to as situational factors.

The previous paragraphs have shown that organizational theory has many kinds of limitations. It is however important to find out why organizations continue to make the same mistakes again and again. For instance, Chris Grey points out that Bureaucracy seems to be practiced in many organizations because it seems to be efficient since people are bound by rules and regulations that have to be adhered to. He goes on to explain a scenario where employees are performing their tasks while following rules, in other words, they are performing intended courses, but the management does not expect the foreseen, commonly referred to as the unintended course. In the event of the unintended course happening, it will be the duty of the management to work towards fixing the unintended events. As more unintended circumstances occur, there will be stagnation, meaning, the management will not be in a position to meet the goals or the end. As managers are consulted about the idea of considering a change in the system carrying out tasks to deal with the issue of unintended circumstances, they often say that there needs to be a reorganization, one that will result in an overhaul of almost every department (Hock 2005). When reorganization is considered, the leaders of organizations seem to be too busy to take it as a step forward, making it a self-perpetuating habit on the side of managers. Some managers even decide to change jobs when they realize the unforeseen events unfolding and seem to be out of their control.

Focusing on the managers, they seem to concentrate on professionalism, following the company rules, seem to be good at leading the employees to do the right thing thus projecting a behavior that seems to imply that they are interested in self-management. Also, in instances where there is a proposal for change in the organization that deems to be successful, there is, almost always a negative operation following that change (Grey 2009). Such a kind of change in the environment of the organization leads to difficulty in managing that change as argued by Grey since people react in different ways towards change. Thus, according to Grey, organizations continue to commit the same mistakes over and over again because of the methods of management used that are guided by the organizational theory. Such mistakes are a result of poor change management, inefficiency in knowledge for handling cultural management, and rigidity when it comes to considering reorganization. Managers who seem to be too self-absorbed in their work, making less time for reorganization, which may, in the long run, eliminate mistakes need to put the interests of the organization first and eliminate self-management.

In conclusion, all the limitations and the failure of management to eliminate mistakes in the organizations to be run imply that organizational theory needs to be reviewed since it seems not to accommodate many issues that may arise in the workforce. A repeat of mistakes by organizations that seem to adhere to, say, bureaucracy, calls for a change or a review of the type of organizational theory. This same theory has also helped to pinpoint the weaknesses of management in organizations. Therefore, in general terms, there seem to be many loopholes in the organizational theory that need to be reconsidered for use in organizations.


Aronson, E.,1988. The Social Animal ,5th ed. NewYork: W.H.Fineman and Company.

Barzilai, K., 2007. Organizational Theory, Web.

Bowen, S., 2008. Beyond self-assessment: Assessing organizational cultural responsiveness. Journal of Cultural Diversity, 15 (1), pp. 9-15.

Friedman, T. L., 2005. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.

Grey, C., 2009. A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations. 2nd ed. London: SAGE Publications.

Hock, R., 2005. Forty Studies that Changed Psychology: Explorations into the History of Psychological Research, 5th ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Massey, W. F., 2009. It’s time to improve academic, not just administrative, productivity. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 55 (18).

Smith, S. M., 2008. The impact of structural empowerment on project managers’ organizational commitment. Journal of Academy of Business and Economics, 8 (1), pp.171-179.

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