Through their Theory of Mechanistic and Organic Systems, Tom Burns and
G.M. Stalker have provided a way to understand which organization forms fit
to specific circumstances of change or stability. In their highly influential
work "The Management of Innovation", they provide the following characteristics
of Mechanistic vs. Organic Systems:
Organization Form and Management System
Organization Form and Management System
Distribution of tasks
of functional tasks into which the problems and tasks facing a concern
as a whole are broken down
Contributive nature of special
knowledge and experience to the common task of the concern.
Nature of Individual
The abstract nature of each
individual task, which is pursued with techniques and purposes more
or less distinct from those of the concern as a whole: i.e., the functionaries
tend to pursue the technical improvements of means, rather than the
accomplishment of the ends of the concern.
The "realistic" nature of
the individual task, which is seen as set by the total situation of
Who defines tasks or
The reconciliation, for each
level in the hierarchy, of these distinct performances by the immediate
superiors, who are also, in turn, responsible for seeing that each is
relevant in his own special part of the main task.
The adjustment and continual
redefinition of individual tasks through interaction with others.
The precise definition of
rights and obligations and technical methods attached to each functional
The shedding of "responsibility"
as a limited field of rights, obligations and methods (problems may
not be posted upwards, downwards or sideways as being someone else's
How is task conformance
The translation of rights
and obligations and methods into the responsibilities of a functional
The spread of commitment
to the concern beyond any technical definition.
Structure of control,
authority and communication
Network, Presumed Community
Locating of knowledge
Reinforcement of the hierarchic
structure by the location of knowledge of actualities exclusively at
the top of the hierarchy, where the final reconciliation of distinct
tasks and assessment of relevance is made.
Omniscience no longer imputed
to the head of the concern; knowledge about the technical or commercial
nature of the here and now may be located anywhere in the network.
members of concern
Vertical communication; i.e.,
between superior and subordinate.
Lateral communication; i.e.,
between people of different rank, resembling consultation rather than
Governance for operations
and working behavior
Instructions and decisions
issued by superiors.
Information and advice rather
than instructions and decisions.
Insistence on loyalty to the concern and obedience to superiors as
a condition of membership.
Commitment to the concern's task and to the "technological
ethos" of material progress and expansion is more highly valued than
loyalty and obedience.
Greater importance and prestige
attaching to internal (local) rather than to general (cosmopolitan)
knowledge, experience, and skill.
Importance and prestige attach
to affiliations and expertise valid in the industrial and technical
and commercial milieux external to the firm.
Book: Tom Burns,
G.M. Stalker - The Management of Innovation
Special Interest Group
Mechanistic and Organic Systems Special Interest Group.
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