Burns and Stalker Essay

Pages: 7 (1868 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business - Management

Burns and Stalker

Tom Burns, G.M. Stalker, and the Theory of Mechanistic and Organic Systems: Background and Developments

The twentieth century saw a huge growth in the field of management as an academic as well as a professional and practical discipline. Many theories on the subject were developed during the past century, and especially in the latter half. The reason for this was relatively clear -- industrialization had been growing for the preceding century, already drastically reshaping the way the world worked and forever altering the daily lives of the citizens of developed and developing nations. Henry Ford's innovation of the assembly line early in the century further revolutionized the manufacturing process for many goods, which in turn had an effect on the overall organization of companies and other complex entities.

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The two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the rise of Communism also all occurred within the first fifty years of the twentieth century; each of these events and/or trends was revolutionary in its own way, and the world was essentially in a state of organizational flux for much of this period. As the dust began to settle in the twentieth century, the delicate balance that existed in the Cold War and the space race had further influences on the concept of organizations, be they business firms, social clubs, or governments. Methods for understanding and influencing organizational behavior continued to be influenced by these ongoing events, leading to new organizational theories, some of which drastically re-imagined the preconceived notions of what it took to move organizations forward and achieve success in various (and always varying) situations.

Essay on Burns and Stalker Assignment

One of the most prominent theories -- and theorists -- to emerge during this period is Tom Burns' (and G.M. Stalker's) theory of mechanistic and organic systems. By classifying organizations in their current state as either mechanistic or organic, Burns and Stalker's theory allows for the consideration of external and internal forces that are already affecting organizational behavior and possibilities, and suggests behaviors and actions that the organization can incorporate into its operations. Burns and Stalker's theory provides a very detailed view of organizations and recommended courses of action based on external and internal circumstances. Before an examination of these details is undertaken, however, a brief overview of the life of Tom burns and the formation of his partnership with G.M. Stalker, especially given their historical context, would be immensely beneficial.

Tom Burns: A Brief Biography

Tom Burns was born just a few short years before the outbreak of the First World War, in London on January 16, 1913. Though this conflict did not have a direct effect on Burns during his years in attendance at the Hague St. Elementary School, later conflicts would, and it is probable that his childhood memories of World War I played some part in his understanding of organizations (Eldridge 2001). In most known respects, Tom Burns' childhood was fairly typical of a middle- or upper-middle class family in London; he had educated parents and was himself devoted to study for a large portion of his youth -- indeed, for his entire life -- which continued largely uninterrupted for the first decades of his existence.

After the Hague St. Elementary School, Burns attended the Parmiter's Foundation School and then Bristol University (where he studied English Literature) before accepting a position as a lecturer in English at Helsinki University in Finland (Eldridge 2001). This position, however was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and Burns spent the next six years -- less the period from 1941 to 1943 that he spent as a German prisoner of war -- working in the Friends' Ambulance Unit which was staffed almost exclusively by conscientious objectors to the war and the idea of killing (Bechhofer & McCrone 2001). His experiences during the Second World War, both with the ambulance unit and as a POW, must necessarily have influenced his observations and conclusions regarding organizations and their responses to external pressures and internal forces.

The breadth of Burns' experience as well as his intellectual curiosity is credited with his late but powerful impact on the development of sociology, which he founded and chaired the department of in 1965 at Edinburgh University, where he began his teaching career in 1949 as a research lecturer (Eldridge 2001). His fascination with organizations was readily observable in both his academic pursuits and his actions in his life, where he was deeply engaged in the structure of the university at which he worked, and the parts that each individual in the organization played (Bechhofer & McCrone 2001). His experience of so many different organizational structures -- the formalized schools he attended, the less formalized ambulance service, the extremities fo a POW camp, and ultimately a department he directly steered -- greatly influenced his academic theories on the subject.

Stalker and The Management of Innovation

One of the most important and well-known of Burns' theories on organizational structure and behavior was his collaboration with G.M. Stalker in their study of the management and organizational structure of twenty different electronics companies (Eldridge 2001). This study resulted in the book The Management of Innovation and the overall theory of the distinction between organic and mechanistic management, their influences, and the situations that best warrant the different approaches of each style. The theory did not spring fully-formed form the minds of the two collaborators, of course, but rather was an extension of both of their work within the wider field of sociology.

Just as burns was not educated initially as a sociologist, but rather entered the study of organizations and human systems rather through a more convoluted process, Stalker initially became interested in organizational behavior through his study and practice as a psychologist. Both of these men had a large breadth and variety of intellectual interests, many of which came together in their eventual collaboration concerning primarily the Scottish electronics industry (Bechhofer & McCrone 2001). The two had been working along similar lines for several years, though this was before Burns' instrumental role in he founding of the Department of Sociology at Edinburgh University, and their working together came as a natural result of these pursuits. This helped in part with the ease of creation of their theory and their book (Bechhofer & McCrone 2001).

Also of great importance in the creation of this theory and the book The Management of Innovation were the external forces at work affecting the Scottish electronics companies being studied by the pair. The theory of mechanistic and organic organizations is primarily concerned with how organizations develop and adapt, and at the time that Burns and Stalker were engaged in the mutual study of these Scottish firms the changing electronics market was leading to reduced profitability for many companies (Sine et al. 2006). The observations of the organizational behaviors witnessed in response to -- or in ignorance of -- the changing external circumstances for these companies, combined with the life experiences of the two men and perhaps Burns in particular, led directly to the observations and analyses that made up the backbone of the organizational theory (Sine et al. 2006).

The Theory of Organic and Mechanistic Organizations

The work and theories of Max Weber, one of sociology's founding fathers, was a major influence on certain aspects of Burns and Stalker's theory. The bureaucracies that Weber described through his own sociological observations were seen as creators of stabilization both with themselves and in larger society. That is, organizations were, in Weber's view, aided in their stability by their departmentalization, hierarchies, and even to some degree their complexity (Sine et al. 2006). Burns, as a budding sociologist himself, was far more than familiar with Weber's theories and analysis, and did not even necessarily disagree with this analysis. He did, however, see a problem with bureaucracies in the world beyond Weber.

The twentieth century, especially after the close of World War II, was a time of great innovation and progress in many fields, both governmental and industry related. Weber's bureaucracies, which would in many ways become the mechanistic organizations described by Burns and Stalker, had significant trouble adapting to these changes in many instances. The stability that Weber had seen as a benefit -- and which was indeed a benefit in certain times -- in bureaucratic organizations was a detriment in times of rapid change, when different organizational structures and behaviors are called for (Burns & Stalker 1961). Stability prevented progress and adaptation, and Burns and Stalker set out to see what organizational structures and behaviors would prove the most adaptive, and therefore the most advantageous in the time period in which they were -- and we still are -- living.

The organic system of organization and management that Burns and Stalker saw as more adaptive, and therefore more responsive to change and more capable of meaningful innovation, consisted of a "flat structure" of communication and decision making, where consultation rather than dictation was the way in which actions and behaviors were chosen (Sine et al. 2006).… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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