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Four types of management theory

Updated April 17, 2017

Although the number of management theories increases over time, some of the earliest studies of management techniques, and the formulation of theories based on those observations, are still taught in business schools today. Although some contradict each other, these four theories are some of the most implemented management strategies in recent history.

Scientific theory

Fredrick Taylor's theory of scientific management espoused applying scientific methods to the management of workers. Taylor formulated his theory at the turn of the 20th Century. At the time, most businesses were still in the hands of the entrepreneurs who founded them, or their families. The success or failure of a company depended on the competence of those in charge. Taylor proposed that less prominent figures, implementing scientific methodologies of management, would perform better than these individuals. Taylor proposed breaking tasks down into sub-tasks and giving workers precise training in the execution of their jobs, rather than just letting them get on with it. This theory led to “Time and motion” studies, which involved refining the way tasks were performed to maximise productivity.

Bureaucracy theory

Bureaucracy theory was formulated by the German social theorist Max Weber, who was a contemporary of Taylor. He theorised that society would come to be dominated by technocrats and defined a perfect bureaucracy where work roles were clearly defined and hierarchical. All commands would be issued in writing for clarity. Although Weber successfully defined the future shape of bureaucracies, he himself disapproved of them.

Behavioural theory

Behavioural management theory had it that the psychological needs and wants of workers is pivotal to the success of a workplace. Elton Mayo, a proponent of the behavioural school, conducted a study in the early 1920s that disproved the efficacy of scientific management theory. He studied the productivity of a group of women working at a factory called the Hawthorne Works. He altered the women's working conditions and noted the resultant changes in productivity. Surprisingly, each change improved productivity, regardless of whether it involved an increase or reduction in benefits. After the Hawthorne study, Mayo concluded that morale and productivity were affected by the recognition and support workers received.

Administration theory

The principles of Henri Fayol's administrative management theory included the division of labour, the importance of authority, clarity of command, discipline, unity of direction and order. He also stressed the importance of respect for the rules and a low employee turnover. Fayol's theory divided management into six functions; forecasting, planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling. His 14 principles of management are laid out in his 1916 book "Administration Industrielle et Generale."

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About the Author

Stephen Byron Cooper began writing professionally in 2010. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computing from the University of Plymouth and a Master of Science in manufacturing systems from Kingston University. A career as a programmer gives him experience in technology. Cooper also has experience in hospitality management with knowledge in tourism.