Using the Structural Theories Lens Essay

In Topic 2, you were asked to read three articles on the topic of doctoral identity and to complete an annotated bibliography to demonstrate their understanding of the material. In Topic 3, you were asked to take this process a step further and identify themes found in the three articles and to complete a synthesis worksheet where the themes were supported by evidence from each article. In this assignment, you will build on your worksheet efforts and write a paper about the three themes. The narrative will not only present the evidence from the articles to support the identified themes, but also will provide an analysis for each theme by synthesizing the information collected.

General Requirements:

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Locate the Synthesis Worksheet you completed in Topic 3.
Locate and download “Synthesis Paper Template” from the Course Materials for this topic.
Review the articles by Baker & Pifer (2011), Gardner (2009), and Smith & Hatmaker (2014) located in the Course Materials for this topic.
This assignment uses a rubric. Review the rubric prior to beginning the assignment to become familiar with the expectations for successful completion.
Doctoral learners are required to use APA style for their writing assignments. Review the GCU APA Style Guide for Writing located in the Student Success Center.
You are required to submit this assignment to Turnitin. Refer to the directions in the Student Success Center.

Using the Synthesis Worksheet you completed in Topic 3 and considering the themes you developed and the feedback provided by your instructor, write a paper (1,000-1,250 words) that synthesizes the three articles. Your paper should include the following:

An introduction that introduces and provides context for the topic. This includes giving a brief description of each article and its purpose, identifying the three themes that emerged from your reading, describing how they will be discussed in the paper, and presenting a clear thesis statement.
Support for your identified themes with evidence from each article. Provide analysis of these findings to strengthen your narrative.
A discussion of the conclusions that can be drawn when the articles are taken together as a single entity. What is the overall message of the group of articles?

What is the chain of command in your organization?
a. What is the formal authority in the organization?
b. That is, who has economic, legal, contractual, collegial authority?

Describe the span of control in the organization.
a. How many people report to managers at various levels?
b. How many levels exist in the organization?

Describe the departmentalization structures of the organization.

Where are decisions being made in the organization?

Explain where your organization sits on the centralized/decentralized continuum.

Are the staff/line distinctions being maintained in your organization?

Structural contingency theory was the first explanatory framework in organization theory. Structural contingency theory emerged with the consolidation of organizational research studies developed by open system theory since the 1950s. It defined its basic research concepts as organization, structure and environment and studied the relationships among them. Although organizational theory has been criticized since the 1970s and lost its dominance with the development of other paradigms, the theory has still been effective since then. In recent years, debates on the development of organizational research studies, their ability to optimize organizational integrity and their explanatory power have caused structural contingency theory to regain importance with significant revisions. This study describes the historical background, theoretical developments and explanatory power of structural contingency theory.


Structural contingency theory (SCT) emerged as a social science of industrial organizations by integrating earlier research. Although this theory did not create an orthodoxy in organization studies in the second half of the twentieth century, defining this area, clarifying research facts, variables and analysis levels constituted the starting point for a common jargon, leaving its imprint on future research.

Organizational structure is clearly defined by structural contingency theory. The structure has transformed into an observable social phenomenon with its functionality and its researchable variables. In the 1950s, a new way to identify organizational structures and the causes of their differences was presented. Organizations were considered in the context of their external environments. The scientific framework for this approach was constituted by General System Theory (Bertalanffy, 1950). The organization, its environment and the relationship between these two phenomena contributed to the development of the idea. Technical and operational concepts of the environment are commonly used today and are based on structural contingency theory. This theory is based on organizational survival and success, hence the relationships between organizations and their environments are considered and analyzed in terms of their contribution to organizational performance. This way of thinking implies that organizational success is associated with specific conditional variables. Structure is the key concept of this research. Structural contingency theory focuses on discovering what constellations of organizational factors contribute to organizational survival and success. It also specifies the fit between contingencies defined by organizational characteristics. In the most general sense, the theory suggests that contingencies defined by environmental uncertainty, technology, competitive strategy and organizational size, require different organizational structures. The fit between contingencies and structure is the key to higher performance or organizational success. These factors make it possible to hypothesize contingencies and define the rules of organizational survival scientifically.

This study introduces the intellectual roots and history of structural contingency theory and its development within the framework of pioneering research. It discusses the classical theoretical debates of the basic concepts of organizational structure, contingencies and organizational performance. Finally, it presents the criticism of structural contingency theory since the 1980s and arguments about its current and future developments.

1.The Intellectual Background of Structural Contingency Theory

Until the mid-1950s, research on organizations focused on clarifying their nature and understanding how they function. This clarification was not at the conceptual level, but attempted to understand and monitor their operations. The production form had become the manufacturing system, or, in other words, the economic system had transformed into a capitalist system. This new production system brought problems with efficiency and organizational survival. Agricultural and craft production had been dominant for centuries, and for the first time in history, production moved into the cities and factories. Its volume increased extraordinarily. New forms of capital and labor required new production relations, control forms and managerial ideologies and practices as well. Therefore, early studies in the beginning of the twentieth century took an interest in understanding and regulating this new form of production. This early period was represented by practitioner-researchers, Taylor, Gulick, Mooney and Urwick, who outlined the problems and basic concepts of future research and also provoked objections to their work.

The objection was that there is no ideal organizational form for achieving organizational success- higher organizational performance-as suggested by the early practitioner-researchers. Pioneering researchers argued that the variables that define organizational structures and their operations should be included in this thought. However, the aim of early studies was not to create an ideal abstraction in academic research, but to rationalize capitalist organizational forms by understanding them, controlling them and ensuring their success. So, this was a period of coping with the problems of modern organizations at the operational level. Academic efforts developed more recently. In the mid-1950s, a range of research programs conducted in the US and Britain drew attention to the new macro conditions of large enterprises and basic industries, which developed significantly in the era’s economic and political climate (Üsdiken and Leblebici, 2001). The studies conducted in this period re-considered the concepts of organization, enterprise and management. Organization theory attempted to affirm its presence as a social science discipline and define its boundaries in the 1950s. These US-centered attempts were intended to make management a science (Üsdiken, 2008), and structural contingency theory (SCT) was the first theory to define, study and assume the phenomenon of organization. In this period, studies finally reached a recently constructed concept of organization based on practitioners’ reforming of enterprises and scientists tried to explain the phenomenon of organization. These years also included struggles in almost all the social sciences, including economics, sociology, political science and psychology. Social sciences, particularly economics, conducted studies for many years to replace Western metaphysics such as Weber’s disenchantment (Y?lmaz, 2009). Progress was based on the idea of rationality. All SCT research is based on Thompson’s ideas of rationality and rationalization (1967).

Although the years between 1910 and 1950 are defined as the classical period when the understanding of scientific management was dominant, the influence of the studies conducted then is still felt today. The idea of scientific management was based on the concepts and especially principles of business managers in the classical period. The main question was the nature of good or successful management, and the main objective was to clarify the principles of organization management. Major concepts and tools that remain valid today were defined in this period: functional specialization, division of labor, chain of command, centralized decision making, work design and job definitions, individual performance and efficiency and bonus systems. However, the studies and research of this period were typically based on individual experience. Arguments were not empirically tested. Rese- arch in the classical period was intended to describe the best methodology, asking the basic question: “What are the operational principles that ensure the success of organizations?”

When the academic research projects conducted since the 1950s were developed and funded, academics criticized all the earlier research severely (Üsdiken, 2008). Research in this period emphasized structural differences between organizations and attempted to explain them. These studies sought to learn why organizational structures differ and are important for three reasons: they show that there is no single best way of organizing, provide a much more precise set of concepts for describing organizational management and propose environmental determinants for different ways of organizing (Van de Ven et al., 2013).

SCT is based on the idea of investigating organizations as rational systems and social phenomena. General System Theory was proposed as a biological and mathematical theory (von Bertalanffy, 1950) and became an intellectual tool that was effective in many areas of social science after the Second World War. Social concepts and phenomena were re-interpreted using the system view, and they were purified and enabled to find a place in the objective, measurable and comparable scientific world of the West. On the basis of the system view, SCT defines organizations as consciously designed, rational systems with specific objectives. The system view had openness. Thus, it surpassed the closed system understanding of classical period and established the dualism of organization and environment. Early SCT efforts differentiated between rational and natural systems and took organizations to be natural systems (Gouldner, 1954).

Structural contingency theory is positivist (Donaldson, 1996). Positivist organization theory proved that organizations defined by physical factors can be explained by scientific laws. These laws are valid for all organizations in all social contexts. In SCT research studies, organizations are the main focus due to their analysis levels. In other words, the research phenomenon does not consider the individual behavior in the organizations, but it considers each organizational behavior as a social actor. Empirical research is conducted on organizational design elements and contingencies. SCT suggests that organizational structure and contingencies are interconnected when they do not exhibit contextual variability. Hence, the theory’s questions and results are not time and space dependent, but have global validity.

SCT is based on the structural and functional paradigm of sociological meaning (Astley and Van de Ven, 1983; Morgan, 1980). Organizational structure is a functional tool for organizations to survive or achieve success. Organizational structure generates specific functional results that yield higher efficiency and success.

Executives are actors who make decisions related to organizational structure (design organizational structure) to achieve higher efficiency (Chandler, 1962; Donaldson, 1996). In other words, as a positivist science, SCT’s functionalist paradigm accounts for its existence and the role of organizational structure (Morgan, 1980).

Structural contingency theory has described the variety of organizational structures and behaviors since the 1950s. SCT regards organizations as open and adaptive systems. This theory emerged as a result of a range of studies in the 60s and 70s, asserting that the fit between organizational structure and contingencies affects organizational performance levels. Particularly until the mid-1970s, organizational theory had a temporary theoretical framework around SCT (Üsdiken, 2008). The most prominent and frequently cited studies in SCT come from Britain (Woodward, 1958, 1965; Burns and Stalker, 1961; Pugh, 1973; Pugh et al., 1968, 1969; Emery and Trist, 1965; Child, 1972) and the US (Chandler, 1962, Hage and Aieken, 1967; Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967; Perrow, 1967; Thompson, 1967; Blau, 1970).

SCT is research that tested a range of propositions using its own scientific basis. These propositions are:

1. Organizations are open systems, so they both affect and are affected by their external environment.

2. Organizational structures are designed in a variety of ways as required by contingencies. In other words, there is a dynamic fit between organizational structure and contingencies.

3. This fit leads to high organizational performance. Organizational success is a function of the fit between structure and contingencies.

4. Change in organizational structure starts with a lack of fit caused by a change in contingencies.

5. New organizational structure re-creates the fit between new contingencies and organizational structure.

Understanding and discussing the content of these assumptions requires showing how concepts and the mutually variable relationships that constitute propositions are defined by the theory. This will clarify the positioning of the concepts of structure, contingencies, external environment and fit in SCT.

2.Basic Concepts: Structure, Contingencies and Fit

Organizational structure was previously accepted as one of the outputs of management processes. With SCT it was proven to be a scientific research phenomenon. Structure was described differently in early studies. The formal and non-formal dimensions of industrial organizations have been discussed since the classical period (Barnard, 1938; Rotlishberger and Dickson, 1946; Selznick, 1948). It was approached as autonomous and natural systems in the system framework (Gouldner, 1954) and analyzed by its technical, managerial and institutional dimensions (Koontz, 1961, 1980). This literature redefined the concepts of organization, structure, transformation, success and performance.

On the other hand, Aston Group studies in 1960s defined the variables that made it possible to define organizational structure as a measurable and observable phenomenon. The Aston Group is the designation of a group of organizational researchers who pursued their own research between 1961 and 1970 under the leadership of Derek S. Pugh. Its official name was the Industrial Administration Research Unit of the Birmingham College of Advanced Technology. Birmingham College was renamed Aston University in 1966 and conducted much SCT research in the 60s. Members of the group originated in different areas of research such as psychology, economics, political sciences and sociology. Among others, John Child, David Hickson, Bob Hinings, Roy Payne, Diana Pheysey, and Charles McMillan published for the Aston Group. This research clearly defined the organizational structure variables of formalization, division of labor and specialization, centralization, standardization and control, and the concept of structure gained importance in academic research as a measurable, observable social phenomenon (Donaldson, Child and Aldrich, 1975; Child, 1972b; Hage and Aiken, 1967).

Organizations were re-conceptualized. A complex organization is a set of interdependent parts that make up a whole because each contributes something and receives something from the whole. This whole in turn is interdependent with some larger environment. These organizations are re-approached as natural systems (Thompson, 1967: 6). The assumption of classical period scholars was that organizations were closed systems, while in the new era they were defined as open systems. Organizations have instrumental and economic rationality, and they constitute a new research area for achieving specific objectives and efficiency.

There are ongoing debates on what organizational structure is and how it should be understood. One approach that affects both the concept of structure and the structural model was promulgated by Max Weber. A specific concept of bureaucracy was developed by Weber. Then it was interpreted in interesting ways, and one of these interpretations is institutionalized in terms of management and organization studies. In fact, Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy in modernity has as fundamental a place as Marx’s class theory (Burns and Stalker, 1966: 105). Bureaucratization is a characteristic of modern societies. Particularly in Western Europe, the modern state and its entities, armies, hospitals and industrial enterprises, have distinguished themselves from other social entities such as traditional societies by bureaucratization in this period of history. Weber discussed its moral, intellectual and social pressure and constraints, which suspend humans’ natural and instinctual existence using the tools of social order instruments and generate alienation. Bureaucracy is a modern phenomenon.

Weber’s studies did not reach the US until the 1940s (Perrow, 1972). Since the early 1900s, management studies in the US were based on the interpretation of past experiences by professional managers. Formal organizational structure, particularly in Fayol and Taylor’s works, was described as a specific model. Formal organization was seen as an instrument to exert authority over, inform and discipline employees in a hierarchy. This was concretized in organizational schematics, job and task descriptions and chain of command. However, Weber’s view of bureaucratic organization requires a rationalistic interpretation of industrial organization (Burns and Stalker, 1966: 107). In short, these organizational structure concepts are interpreted as the parts of the same conceptual path, but they actually include different intellectual systematic, objectives and results. The authors who studied the same phenomenon, in other words industrial organizations, analyzed efficiency, rationality, legitimacy or political domination. All of these analyses were considered within the context of classical management and conducted in the period when this discipline was not adequately developed. In the first view, organizations are considered a dominant form of order, while in the second, designing and improving the organizations through order and cooperation are significant.

In SCT, organizational transformation describes a range of successive actions that are explained by change in contingencies and have a similar causal relationship. Structural transformation starts with change in organizational contingencies. If there is diversification or variation in organizational operations-for instance, if a computer producing organization varies its production by producing a phone or portable stereo-then fit is disrupted. If there is a change in technology use- (for instance, a shift from a mechanical production to computer-based production), a difference in market conditions, new competitors enter the market or competition with a new product, organizational scale changes with the establishment of new departments and units or the organization repositions itself in the market with a new competitive strategy-all these things disrupt fit. SCT assumes that change in contingencies triggers a transformation to regain required structural design elements. Finally, the organization fits its organizational structure, contingencies change and organizational performance increases. In other words, the transformation has its own cycle. A successful organization experiences some performance problems as a result of changes in contingencies. In such cases, the management determines the necessary transformations and when a new structural design is adopted, the organization fits new contingencies and its performance increases. In short, the lack of fit between contingencies and organizational structure leads structural transformation.

Inefficiency in this scenario appears with performance loss due to the lack of fit caused by changes in organizational contingencies. Temporal lag is due to the imperfect information of the executives who should notice the need for structural transformation. Executives notice this need in a certain time period and then make a new structural design (Donaldson, 1995).

The contingency approach says that the effect of one variable on another depends upon some third variable, w. The relationship between x and y is part of a larger causal system involving the third variable, w, so that the valid generalization takes the form of a trivariate relationship (Donaldson, 2001). In this causal framework, SCT takes organizational structure and effectiveness (organizational performance or success) as two basic variables. Industrial organizations are assumed to be units constructed to do certain tasks in a defined order to attain open-ended goals. Organizational structure changes, altering the formal allocation of work roles and the administrative mechanisms to control and integrate work activities including those that cross formal organizational boundaries (Child, 1972a). Contingencies in the organization play a regulatory role in the relationship between the structure and organizational performance (Donaldson, 2001). This fit- fit causes higher performance-ends when stability in the competitive environment is replaced by variation.

These fundamental causal relationships are required to redefine variables for the internal consistency of the theory. Organizational structure and its behaviors are seen as measurable and observable phenomena. Organizational structure is a rational and relational pattern consciously designed to attain a specific goal (Thompson, 1967). Executives make strategic and structural design decisions and present rational behaviors on behalf of an organization’s interests. In other words, organizational actions are collectively rational (Donaldson, 1995: 12).

Executives have positive roles in SCT. Chandler (1977, 1983, 1990), portrays competent executives and explains their vital role in a subtle way. However, this role is limited by contingencies. Contingency factors and their results are defined, and executives direct their relations like orchestra conductors (Donaldson, 1995: 13). For SCT, executives are conscious creators of designed fit. Executives make decisions according to current technology, innovation in products and processes, product diversity, organizational strategy and organizational structure (Donaldson, 1995).

The basic concepts and assumptions of SCT emerged in the findings of a range of studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. These pioneering studies of contingencies will be described and discussed in the following sections.

3.Early Studies: Defining Basic Contingencies

The basic variables of SCT are based on the birth and development the organizational theory discipline and attempts to define its legitimacy and boundaries. Since the 1990s, contingencies, which were redefined and remodeled in different SCT studies established the permanence of a new style of thought. New variables such as technology, environmental uncertainty, organizational size and strategy were defined in a variety of studies.

SCT is based on a range of studies that analyze the effects of specific contingencies, strategy, size, technology and environment, on organizational structural characteristics. Each contingency variable generates design variations in organizational structure. The studies based on this theory are introduced in the following section.



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