Theory of Mechanistic and Organic Systems
(Burns, Stalker)

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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:


Mechanistic Organization Form and Management System

Organic Organization Form and Management System

Appropriate Conditions



Distribution of tasks

Specialized differentiation 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 task

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 the concern.

Who defines tasks or refines tasks

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.

Task scope

The precise definition of rights and obligations and technical methods attached to each functional role.

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 responsibility).

How is task conformance ensured

The translation of rights and obligations and methods into the responsibilities of a functional position.

The spread of commitment to the concern beyond any technical definition.

Structure of control, authority and communication

Hierarchic, Contractual.

Network, Presumed Community of Interest.

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.

Communication between members of concern

Vertical communication; i.e., between superior and subordinate.

Lateral communication; i.e., between people of different rank, resembling consultation rather than command.

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

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Mechanistic and Organic Systems Special Interest Group.

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Forum discussions about Mechanistic and Organic Systems. Below you can ask a question about this topic, share your experiences, report a new development, or explain something.

topic Measuring Organizational Stability
How can we measure organizational stability?...
topic Are Organic Organizations More Effective then Mechanistic Organizations?
I think organic organizations are more likely to be effective than mechanistic ones....
Comments1 comments
topic Mechanistic Variant: Reduce the Variables
Just because the mechanistic form is widespread that does not mean it is the most effective form for our environment. I suggest another dynamic, equally powerful: people strive to reduce the variable...
Comments1 comments
🔥 Is a Hospital a Mechanistic or an Organic Organization?
How would you characterize a hospital as an organization in terms of Burns & Stalker’s typology?...
Comments3 comments
topic Closed and Open Systems in an Organization
In organizations, there must be a time for open and a time for closed system. Can these two co-mingle with one another? When is the right moment?...
Comments1 comments
topic What is Organizational Stabiltity?
What is organizational stability? Can you give some definition of organizational stability?...
topic Aspects of Organizational Philosphy (Dimensions)
Design a method for measuring the organizational philosophy of an organization. What would the various dimensions in it be?...
Comments1 comments
topic Factors Causing Organizational Stability
What are the factors effecting organizational stability?...
Comments1 comments
topic Community Development and Organising
Are community development and organising allies or rivals?...
Comments1 comments
topic No stationary organization
There is no 'stationary' organization; they are all changing in terms of technology, people and professions, market and products, but most importantly, we are all (organizations) changing as the world...

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🥇 Obvious or not true after all?
I was reading over this summary of the organic-mechanistic typology of Burns and Stalker, and at first sight it seems simple and logical: the best way to organize a company is contingent upon its envi...
Comments8 comments

Expert Tips

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Information Sources

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