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Organization design: its evolution within a changing context

Published on July 4, 2010 Reviewed on May 31, 2016   63 min

Other Talks in the Series: Managing Organizations

My name is John Child. I work at the University of Birmingham where, until recently, I held the chair of commerce. And now I've become professor emeritus. What I want to do in this talk is to look at how the thinking, or theory if you like, about the design of organization has evolved over the last 100 years, approximately. And I want to really cover three key questions.
The first question is how this thinking about the design of organizations has changed as the context has changed over time. The second question is whether any of the older or sometimes called classical thinking on organization still has relevance for us today. And then I want to move on, in the last part of my talk, to look at what current thinking is about the design of organization.
The context in which we've had to think about the design of organizations has changed a lot. If we go back to the beginning of such thinking, this is a time when firms were beginning to become large, some of them, like the sort of General Motors of this world and the General Electrics. But at the same time, these were environments for business which were relatively stable. They were often protected by tariff barriers and protected markers. There was quite a lot of emphasis on standardization of production. There wasn't very much or very frequent change on the whole of products. So you think of the Model T Ford, how many years that was produced is a very standard car without much change in its design, without very much innovation. There was quite an emphasis in the early days on efficiency and a lot of attention to trying to gain economies of scale as the main sort of emphasis of strategy of firms. And also this time, partly because of the large scale of firms, partly because you had a growing difficulty of owners continuing to manage these large firms, you had the development of professional management, which was very keen to develop what it called a systematic and scientific approach to what it did, body of knowledge that it could claim for its own and which would help to maintain its status. And this is sometimes associated with the development called the divorce of ownership and control, that managers were coming into control of organizations, particularly businesses, whereas owners were often becoming more detached or divorced from that control. And ownership itself was spreading more and more among institutions and small shareholders and so on.

Organization design: its evolution within a changing context

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