Classical Principles of Organization

Traditional organization theorists developed certain generalizations which they considered to be principles of organization. These principles are useful first approximates, or guides for thought, in the organizing function. They provide a simple group of intuitive statements that provoke though by both operating managers and researchers in an organization. The most important of these principles are (1) unity of command, (2) exception principle, (3) span of control, (4) scalar principle, (5) organizing departments and (6) decentralization.

One of the traditional principles of organization generally referred to as unity of command states that no member of an organization should report to more than one superior on any single function. This principle appeals to common sense in a pure line organization, in which each superior has general authority; however, it becomes a complex problem in actual cases in which some form of staff and/or functional organization is used. In practice instruction may be received from several sources without loss of productivity. The central problem is to avoid conflict in orders from different people relating to the same subject. One should recognize immediately that the actions of a subordinate may be influenced by many persons who are not recognized in the formal hierarchy of authority. The principle of unity of command may be useful in the planning of an organization if it is interpreted as a tendency toward the simplification of relationship between superior and subordinate; it is not realistic if it is interpreted as an immutable law that would eliminate useful relationships among executives.

A second principle, called the exception principle, states that recurring decisions should be handled in a routine manner by lower level managers, whereas problems involving unusual matters should be referred to higher levels. This principle emphasizes that executives at the top levels of an organization have limited time and capacity and should refrain from becoming bogged down in routine details that can be handled as well by subordinates. Thus, it is an important concept concerning the delegation of authority in an organization.

The exception principle can be very useful to execute by focusing attention on those matters that should receive attention first. It is applicable at all levels and, if kept in mind, can help the inexperienced executive compensate for a human tendency to concentrate on the concrete, immediate, and detailed problems at the expenses of the more fundamental, difficult, and abstract issues. At the same time, attention to the principle can help the lower level managers understand exactly what they are expected to do.

The principle has remained important in modern theory because of the distinction it makes between programmed and non-programmed decisions. Programmed decisions are those tat are repetitive and routine and that can be handled by a definite procedure. Non-programmed decisions involve new, one shot and unstructured elements that require tailored handling by superiors. Programmed decisions may be easily delegated; non-programmed decisions usually need the attention of the superior in handling “exception”.

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