The assumptions of the structural frame are reflected in current approaches to organizational design. These suppositions reflect a belief in rationality and a faith that a suitable array of formal roles and responsibilities will minimize distracting personal static and maximize people’s performance on the job. Where the human resource approach (to be discussed in Chapters Six through Eight) emphasizes dealing with issues by changing people (through training, rotation, promotion, or dismissal), the structural perspective argues for putting people in the right roles and relationships. Properly designed, these formal arrangements can accommodate both collective goals and individual differences.
Six assumptions undergird the structural frame:
1. Organizations exist to achieve established goals and objectives.
2. Organizations increase efficiency and enhance performance through specialization and appropriate division of labor.
3. Suitable forms of coordination and control ensure that diverse efforts of individuals and units mesh.
4. Organizations work best when rationality prevails over personal agendas and extraneous pressures.
5. Structures must be designed to fit an organization’s current circumstances (including its goals, technology, workforce, and environment).
6. Problems arise and performance suffers from structural deficiencies, which can be remedied through analysis and restructuring.
ORIGINS OF THE STRUCTURAL PERSPECTIVE
The structural view has two main intellectual roots. The first is the work of industrial analysts bent on designing organizations for maximum efficiency. The most prominent of these, Frederick W. Taylor (1911), was the father of time-and-motion studies; he founded an approach that he labeled “scientific management.” Taylor broke tasks into minute parts and retrained workers to get the most from each motion and every second spent at work. Other theorists who contributed to the scientific management approach (Fayol,  1949; Urwick, 1937; Gulick and Urwick, 1937) developed principles focused on specialization, span of control, authority, and delegation of responsibility.
A second ancestor of structural ideas is the German economist and sociologist Max Weber. Weber wrote around the beginning of the twentieth century. At the time, formal organization was a relatively new phenomenon. Patriarchy, rather than rationality, was still the primary organizing principle. Patriarchal organizations were dominated by a father figure, a ruler with almost unlimited authority and boundless power. He could reward, punish, promote, or fire on personal whim. Seeing an evolution of new models in late-nineteenth-century Europe, Weber described “monocratic bureaucracy” as an ideal form that maximized norms of rationality. His model outlined several major features:
• A fixed division of labor
• A hierarchy of offices
• A set of rules governing performance
• A separation of personal from official property and rights
• The use of technical qualifications (not family ties or friendship) for selecting personnel
• Employment as primary occupation and long-term career
After World War II, Weber’s work was rediscovered, inspiring a substantial body of theory and research. Blau and Scott (1962), Perrow (1986), Thompson (1967), Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), and Hall (1963), among others, amplified the bureaucratic model. Their work examined relationships among the elements of structure, looked closely at why organizations choose one structure over another, and analyzed the effects of structure on morale, productivity, and effectiveness.
GREATEST HITS FROM ORGANIZATION STUDIES
Hit Number 4: James D. Thompson, Organizations in Action: Social Science Bases of Administrative Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967)
“Organizations act, but what determines how and when they will act?” (p. 1). That guiding question opens Thompson’s compact, tightly reasoned book. He answers that “organizations do some of the basic things they do because they must—or else! Because they are expected to produce results, their actions are expected to be reasonable, or rational” (p. 1). As Thompson sees them, organizations operate under “norms of rationality,” but rationality is no easy thing to achieve because of the central challenge of uncertainty. “Uncertainties pose major challenges to rationality, and we will argue that technologies and environments are basic sources of uncertainty for organizations. How these facts of organizational life lead organizations to design and structure themselves needs to be explored” (p. 1).
Thompson looked for a way to meld two distinct ways of thinking about organizations. One was to see them as closed, rational systems (as in Taylor’s scientific management and Weber’s theory of bureaucracy). A second viewed them as open, natural systems in which “survival of the system is taken to be the goal, and the parts and their relationships are presumably determined through evolutionary processes” (p. 6). In melding the two, he tried to build on a “newer tradition” emerging from the work of March and Simon (1958, number 10 on our scholars’ list) and Cyert and March (1963, number 2). This tradition viewed organizations as “problem facing and problem solving” in a context of limited information and capacities.
With these premises, Thompson developed a series of propositions about how organizations design and manage themselves as they seek rationality in an uncertain world. The two primary sources of uncertainty, in his view, are technology and the environment. He distinguishes three kinds of technology—pooled, sequential, and reciprocal—each making different demands on communication and coordination. Since demands and intrusions from the environment threaten efficiency, organizations try to increase their ability to anticipate and control the environment and attempt to insulate their technical core from environmental fluctuations. Still another source of uncertainty is the “variable human.” The more uncertainty an organization faces, the more discretion individuals need to cope with it, but greater discretion creates a challenge of controlling its use. “Paradoxically, the administrative process must reduce uncertainty but at the same time search for flexibility”