46: Classics of Management and Organization Theory – AoM 2018 Workshop LIVE

With Speakers Paul Adler, Silvia Dorado, Siobhan O’Mahony, and Marc Ventresca

A special recording from a workshop on management classics held at the 2018 Academy of Management Conference in Chicago. Hosted by Pedro, this PDW intended to raise interest towards classic authors/ideas in the field of organization and management theory. It offered scholars from all levels the opportunity to reflect on insights of earlier scholarship and their relevance for current research, complementing the strong emphasis (on new ideas and approaches. This is of great importance as the field has thus far been more attentive to disruptions than continuities; pursuing novelty over tradition.

In the workshop, senior scholars presented talks on four classic authors (Karl Marx, Mary Parker Follett, Mary Douglas, and Albert Hirschman) to discuss their contemporary relevance. This was followed by a roundtable discussion limited to fifty participants.

The workshop demonstrated how attentive (re)readings of classic scholarship reaffirm time and time again their enduring importance. The discussion provided valuable insights on central organizational research problematics (e.g., coordination and control), stimulated complex thinking, enabled analytical comparisons between current and past phenomena (e.g., industrialization and digitization), and serve as ‘exemplars’ of academic excellence and of research that is problem-driven and focused on real-world issues.

We are working to include a similar workshop at next year’s conference and hope to make this a routine event at future AOMs!

Available on the website are four flyers prepared by the Talking About Organizations team that introduce each of the classic authors and a set of photographs from the event. We hope you enjoy the discussion!

All of us at Talking About Organizations are to the four terrific speakers – Paul, Silvia, Siobhan, and Marc – for their outstanding contributions!

Flyers of the Four Classic Authors Discussed:

Click on the links below to access the information sheets provided at the workshop.

Albert O. Hirschman | Karl Marx | Mary Douglas | Mary Parker Follett

Photos from the Workshop (click on a thumbnail to enlarge):
To find out more:

Adler, P. S. (2009). A social science which forgets its founders is lost. In The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Organization Studies Classical Foundations. Oxford University Press.

Barley, S. R. (2015). 60th Anniversary Essay: Ruminations on How We Became a Mystery House and How We Might Get Out. Administrative Science Quarterly, 1–8.

Davis, G. F. (2016). Organization Theory and the Dilemmas of a Post-Corporate Economy. Research in the Sociology of Organizations (Vol. 48, pp. 311–322). Emerald Group
Publishing Limited.

Davis, G. F., & Zald, M. N. (2009). Sociological Classics and the Canon in the Study of Organizations (pp. 1–13). Oxford University Press.

Gay, du, P., & Vikkelsø, S. (2016). For Formal Organization. Oxford University Press.

Hallett, T., and M. J. Ventresca (2006). “Inhabited Institutions: Social Interactions and Organizational Forms in Gouldner’s Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy.” Theory and
Society, 35: 213–236.

Hinings, C. R., Greenwood, R., & Meyer, R. (2016). Dusty Books?: the liability of oldness. Academy of Management Review.

Kilduff, M., & Dougherty, D. (2000). Change and Development in a Pluralistic World: the View From the Classics. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 777–782.

Lounsbury, M., & Carberry, E. J. (2016). From King to Court Jester? Weber’s Fall from Grace in Organizational Theory. Organization Studies, 26(4), 501–525.

Pugh, D. S., & Hickson, D. J. (2007). Writers on organizations.

Stinchcombe, A. L. (1982). Should sociologists forget their mothers and fathers? The American Sociologist, 17, 2–11.

Thornton, P. H. (2009). The Value of the Classics: 1–19. In The Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Organization Studies Classical Foundations. Oxford University Press.

44: Transaction Costs and Boundaries of the Firm – Williamson and Malone

Oliver E. Williamson

Following on a theme from the previous episode, we explore an important reading that bridges organization theory with economics. This was the explicit aim of Oliver E. Williamson’s famous article, “The Economics of Organization: The Transaction Cost Approach,” published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1981. The article begins with a statement that the assumption of firms operating on a profit motive has not helped organization theorists understand and explain the behaviors of firms, and that economists were also finding themselves similarly limited. He thus set out on a different path and argued that transactions, not the products or services the firm provides, is a better unit of analysis.

In the discussion, we wrestle with Williamson’s central arguments and proposals, such as the construct of the efficient organizational boundary, human asset specificity and the difference types of governance structures related to it, and how markets and hierarchies represent different choices for organizing. We also explored a related article presenting early thoughts about the growing impact of rapid advances in information technology on firm and market structures. Written in 1987, Tom Malone et al.’s “Electronic Markets and Electronic Hierarchies” presages the modern online economic environment and its many virtual interactions between seller and buyers. This fascinating extension of Williamson’s ideas made a number of predictions. How many came true 30 years later?

Tune in as the podcasters discuss the transaction cost approach to organization theory and its lasting impacts on scholarship and practice!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Williamson, O. E. (1981). The economics of organization: The transaction cost approach. American Journal of Sociology 87(3), 548-576.

Malone, T. W., Yates, J., & Benjamin, R. I. (1987). Economic markets and economic hierarchies. Communications of the ACM 30(6), 484-497.


34: Sociotechnical Systems – Trist and Bamforth

Episode 34 covers an important article by Eric Trist and Ken Bamforth, “Some Social and Psychological Consequences of the Longwall Method of Coal-Getting,” published in the journal Human Relations in 1951. Eric Trist was a British social scientist best known for his contributions to the field of organization development and one of the founders of the Tavistock Institute. Ken Bamforth was a miner and industrial fellow of the Tavistock Institute.

Eric Trist

The article’s subtitle is an examination of the psychological situation and defences of a work group in relation to the social structure and technological content of the work system, and explores how a technological change in the coal-mining industry tore apart the social structure of the workers who were supposed to have benefitted from the change. The technological change in question was the mechanization of the process of mining and extracting coal along a very long face, as opposed to the previous ‘hand-got’ methods where small teams would dig out coal from smaller faces.

The explanation of the differences between the hand-got and mechanized longwall is visually stunning as the article gave a thick description of the setting, the work performed, and the relationships among miners. Trist and Bamforth described how the hand-got method encouraged strong social bonds as workers toiled closely together and performed all tasks as an autonomous unit. This changed under the longwall method where the workers were spread out over long distances and operated in shifts such that no one team or person had visibility of the entire task. Despite the increased efficiency, the loss of the social bonds produced morale problems, internal fighting and blaming, and increased worker resistance.

The authors also described an example of growing bureaucracy in both the positive and negative sense. Mechanization necessitated the emergence of intermediate layers in the organization as managers were no longer able to observe the entire mining operation. Combined with the increased specialization and segregation of workers’ roles across three distinct shifts, the social structure grew fragmented.

The article came out at an important time, as Britain was still recovering from World War II. The mechanized longwall was seen as a way to restore coal production, helping fuel a resurgent economy. As the podcasters explain throughout the episode, the story told in this article resonates today. Many modern technological changes are promoted for their potential efficiency advantages.

But what impacts do they have on the social structures in the workplace and worker commitment to the firm? Our podcasters had a lot to say about this. Join us for the episode!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Also read Tom’s post about his visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, which he references in this episode.
Read with us:

Trist, E.L. and Bamforth, K.W., 1951. Some social and psychological consequences of the Longwall Method of coal-getting: An examination of the psychological situation and defences of a work group in relation to the social structure and technological content of the work system. Human relations, 4(1), pp.3-38.

To know more:

Brooks, F.P. (1975). The Mythical Man Month. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Bechky, B.A., and Chung, D.E. (2017) Latitude or Latent Control? How Occupational Embeddedness and Control Shape Emergent Coordination, Administrative Science Quarterly

Financial Times. Driven to despair — the hidden costs of the gig economy.


33: Foreman – Master and Victim of Doubletalk

To open Season 4, this episode covered Fritz J. Roethlisberger’s classic 1945 article from Harvard Business Review (HBR), “The FOREMAN: Master and Victim of Double Talk.” The article resulted from a study concerning the dissatisfaction of foremen in mass production industries at the time. Foremen suffered under low pay and poor wartime working conditions. Meanwhile, management addressed the foremen’s concerns through short-sighted “symptom-by-symptom” corrective actions to little effect. As a result, foremen were leaning toward unionization, while management found itself unable to keep pace with the social implications of rapidly advancing technologies on the supervisory structure.

Fritz Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger’s essential question was this: “Can management afford not to take responsibility for its own social creations – one of which is the situation foremen find themselves?” The foreman had to lead workers toward fulfilling production requirements under increasingly complex conditions, requiring greater knowledge and skill than foremen past and yet under intensifying restrictions to their autonomy and decision making, along with a wider network of supervisors and administrative staff that the foreman must report to.

The result were conditions where the foremen became insecure due to micromanagement and being held liable for problems or issues beyond their control. The foreman could not avoid these interactions, and thus was forced to “become a master of double talk,” advising superiors of the situation at the front in ways that avoided or mitigated criticism from them. Thus, the foreman also became a victim of double talk, of a ballooning culture that saw employees as little more than cogs in the machine and foremen as barely more, yet the foremen still had to “deliver the goods.” Roethlisberger’s account of the foremen’s conditions and the roles they play in the firm are compelling and troublesome indeed, and led him to recommend an entirely new form of administrative structure with administrators being far more connected to the workers and serving as enablers to the foremen.

 “The FOREMAN: Master and Victim of Double Talk” continues to be popular in reprints and HBR considers it a classic of the journal. It also represents a recurring challenge for firms facing disruptive technologies or their rapid evolution – how do administrators keep pace with the social changes that result, so that direct supervisors remain enabled and empowered?

Join us as we talk about the article and its implications for present-day managers and firms!
Note: Scroll down further to see a Figure from the text that we referenced often.

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Roethlisberger, Fritz J. “The foreman: Master and victim of double talk.” Harvard Business Review 23.3 (1945): 283-298.

To know more:

Storberg-Walker, J., & Bierema, L. (2006). “Another look at a historical foundation of HRD: F.R. Roethlisberger’s foreman.” Paper presented at the AERC, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Figure 1. Forces Impinging Upon the Foreman (from the original text)



17: Tokenism – Rosabeth Moss Kanter

With Special Guest Deborah Brewis

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kanter is the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of business at Harvard Business School. She is known for research on gender, strategy, leadership and innovation. Her book “Men and Women of the Corporation” (1977), arguably one of her most important work, is considered a seminal study on gender in the workplace and one of the richest case studies of a large industrial corporation in the field. It won the C. Wright Mills Award, fueled a stream of research on tokenism and the negative consequences of inequality and blocked opportunities for minorities, and had great impact on policymaking on affirmative action and related strategies.

In this episode, we read Kanter’s paper “Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life: Skewed Sex Ratios and Responses to Token Women” (1977) which features as a chapter in her classic book. In this article, Kanter explores how interactions within a group or an organization are affected by the different numbers of people from distinct social types. In particular, she focuses on groups with skewed gender ratios: a high proportion of men and a small number of women – the tokens. The study is based on observations and interviews with sales team which had recently started to incorporate women in its workforce and shows how structural factors stifled their potential.

Kanter documents that because women were numerically few, they: 

  1. experienced heightened visibility creating performance pressures,
  2. were isolated by the majority who exaggerated their differences in the face of women entry in the group, and
  3. were expected to act within pre-defined gender roles.

Kanter richly unravels the mechanisms underpinning these gender dynamics and the responses of these (token) women to such situations. The paper debunks a number of assumptions from previous literature on the behavior of women at work. It posits that hypotheses on the “fear of success of women” or “women-prejudice-against-women” have origins on structural conditions in which women are embedded in, not gender traits in themselves. The paper also makes a strong case for affirmative action and numerical balance as an instrument for gender equality. While many of these claims have been replicated in further research, gender scholars have also problematized some of its assumptions, insisting that gender is a matter of power and not only quantity; and that balancing numbers as a strategy for change may fall short in the face of resistance and the reproduction of inequality.

The challenges of gender integration, the theoretical underpinnings of Kanter’s framework and the relevance of the concept of tokenism in contemporary research and practice are among the themes covered in this Episode. 

Join us as we talk about these issues, and many more, together with our very special guest, Dr. Deborah Brewis!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Kanter, R. M. (1977). Some effects of proportions on group life: Skewed sex ratios and responses to token womenAmerican Journal of Sociology, 965-990.

To Learn More:

Yoder, J. D. (1991). Rethinking tokenism: Looking beyond numbers. Gender & Society5(2), 178-192.

Zimmer, L. (1988). Tokenism and women in the workplace: The limits of gender-neutral theory. Social Problems35(1), 64-77.

16: Contingency Theory – Lawrence and Lorsch

Paul Lawrence (1922-2011) and Jay Lorsch

Paul Lawrence (1922 – 2011) and Jay Lorsch (1932) are/were two scholars associated with the contingency school. Important figures in the field of management and organizational studies, their collaboration produced important works including the award winning book “Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration” and a series of papers which advance an open systems perspective on organizations.
The contingency school postulates that there is not one best way to structure work or an organization. An optimum course of action depends – is contingent – on the external and local conditions in which an organization is inserted. This represents an alternative to most assumptions from scientific management and shifts attention of organization scholars beyond internal dynamics to the external environment of an organization.
In this episode, we read the classic article “Differentiation and Integration in Complex Organizations” published in 1967 in Administrative Science Quarterly, arguably the flagship journal of our discipline. In this work, Lawrence and Lorsch investigate the relation between organizational characteristics and their environment, and stipulate that an organization’s economic performance is determined by its ability to meet integration and differentiation requirements according to their environment.

The paper is based on a comparative study of six industrial organizations and data was obtained via questionnaires and interviews with senior executives. The researchers compare the degree of integration and differentiation between subgroups in each company (i.e., sales, production and research and development subsystems) as they attempt to meet requirements from their sub-environments (i.e., science, market and technical-economic). The paper shows that the most economic successful organizations were the ones that managed to fulfil the dual goal of differentiation and integration. Finally, the authors explore the conditions that lead to more or less effectiveness in integrative devices.

So, how does integration and differentiation happen? And what does it mean to meet requirements from the environment? Join us as we explore these concepts and ideas in Episode 16! 

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Lawrence, P., and Lorsch, J. (1967) Differentiation and Integration in Complex SystemsAdministrative Science Quarterly, 12 (1), 1-47.


13: Banana Time – Donald Roy

Original Photo from the Article

Donald F. Roy (1909–1980) was a sociologist on the faculty of Duke University from 1950 to 1979. He is traditionally well known for his contribution to the labour process theory, workplace interactions, social conflict and the role of unions, but also for his very detailed descriptions of how workers experience time. Roy’s work surveys much of blue-collar America (beginning in 1934 he took employment in around 24 menial jobs in 20 industries), and is of great importance to Marxist analysis back in the day.

One of the most famous ethnographic works, Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction describes Roy’s experience of working as a drill press operator (as in the picture on this page) for two months. Set against the backdrop of Taylor-inspired Scientific Management, the paper provides a thick description of the setting, the tools of work and, most importantly, behaviour and dynamics of the group of workers whom Roy was assigned to work with. The work group itself was fairly isolated in the factory, and supervision was infrequent. Roy initially experienced the work as “a grim process of fighting the clock”, and in this machine work, faced a “dismal combination of working conditions …[in the shape of] an extra-long workday, infinitesimal cerebral excitation, and the extreme limitation of physical movement”. In the early days of the job, he survived the experience by developing his own ‘games’ with the work (what Dmitrijs inadvertently referred to during the episode as ‘playing with himself’), setting arbitrary goals and creating as much diversity in the tasks as possible. However, as Roy became aware of a whole range of social activities that were going on between the other members of the group, he became drawn into the social dynamic of the workplace. This paper is about his experiences of those dynamics.

While the paper itself is not particularly theory rich, it does a great job of provoking a great deal of thinking about different theories in those who know them, or have listened to this podcast. The thick descriptions of work and social interactions touch upon a great number of themes and foundational concepts in management, psychology and sociology. For instance, Roy alludes to, directly or indirectly (usually the latter), Scientific Management, esprit de corpsHawthorne Studies, motivation and self-actualization, time and motion studies, humour, play, and lived experience of time.

 To learn about all of these, and more, do join us for Episode 13 on Banana Time, by Donald Roy!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Roy, D.F. (1959). Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal InteractionHuman Organization, 18(4), 158-168.


11: Culture and High Reliability – Bierly and Spender

Paul Bierly and J. C. Spencer

In Episode 11 we are joined by our resident expert, Dr. Ralph Soule (retired US Navy Captain), to discuss Culture and High Reliability Organizing (HRO). While not universally known within management and organization studies, High Reliability is concerned with formal structure and process, as well as informal commitment, motivation and trust. HRO describes a subset of hazardous organizations that enjoy a high level of safety over long periods of time. What distinguishes types of high-risk systems is the source of risk, whether it is the technical or social factors that the system must control or whether the environment, itself, constantly changes. This latter can be controversial to observers as environments change within a range of expected extremes. It is the surprise of the change, its unexpected presentation that influences the level of reliability.

High reliability organization theory and HROs are often contrasted against Charles Perrow’s Normal Accident Theory (NAT), but where Perrow believed in the inevitability of accidents in the face of ever more complex technology, HRO scholars believe that accidents can, and are avoided by means of appropriate culture and training of the workforce. The term “high reliability organization” (HRO) was coined by Rochlin, La Porte, and Roberts (1987) to describe organizations that achieve superb safety performance  under difficult circumstances and perform highly complex technical tasks in unforgiving environments. HRO scholarship has sought to resolve the organizational structure paradox between the need for centralization of knowledge to manage highly complex technical systems (systems that are too complex for any small group to understand) and the need for decentralized decision-making to prevent failure of tightly coupled parts of the system. Prior to the theory, there was no way to describe how to reconcile the paradox between technological and organizational complexity in high risk systems.

Paul Bierly and J.C. Spender’s 1995 article, “Culture and high reliability organizations: The case of the nuclear submarine,” is about the culture that underpins the reliability of nuclear submarines. They argued that culture and organizational structure are mutually reinforcing in producing high reliability. Drawing from their personal experience, the authors “argue for a multi-level model in which culture interacts with and supports formal structure and thereby produces high reliability.”

We decided to read Culture and High Reliability Organization: A Case of the Nuclear Submarine in order to get ourselves acquainted with the ideas behind the concept. The Authors, both of whom are qualified nuclear officers with the U.S. Navy, describe how certain characteristics of the culture instilled into that organization by its founder – Admiral Rickover – facilitate a safety-centred high reliability approach to operations. Fascinating stuff!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Bierly, P.E. and Spender, J.C., 1995. Culture and high reliability organizations: The case of the nuclear submarine. Journal of Management, 21(4), 639-656.

To Learn More:

High Reliability: A review of the literature (get PDF here)

Todd Conklin’s podcast – The PreAccident Investigation – Episode 40 (can be found here)

9: Hawthorne Studies – Elton Mayo


Elton Mayo

Elton Mayo was born in 1880 in Adelaide, Australia. He initially studied to become a doctor but after attending different medical schools in Edinburgh and London, he decided to change his career path. Before returning to the University, he traveled, wrote articles and taught English. In 1907 he started his studies in philosophy and psychology at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, where he gained high levels of recognition. He worked at the University of Queensland as a lecturer, where he became chair of philosophy. In 1922 he left Australia for the United States of America. In this period of time he worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School as a research associate. His research interests were situated mostly in the field of industrial research, focusing on employee turnover. After conducting a study at a textile mill in Philadelphia funded by a Rockefeller grant, his work became widely known and the Harvard School of Business Administration offered him a position as associate professor in 1926 and then as professor of industrial research, in 1929. This is the period of time which the studies that he is most famous for, the so-called Hawthorne Studies, go back to.

The Hawthorne studies take their name from the Hawthorne works, a factory near Chicago which belonged to Western Electric. Even though these studies are traditionally solely associated with Mayo’s name, most of the experimental work was carried out by Fritz Roethlisberger (his graduate assistant) and William Dickson (head of the department of employee relations at Western Electric). The experiments took place between 1924 and 1932 and were commissioned because the company wanted to understand which was the optimal level of lighting to increase workers’ productivity. Subsequent experiments were conducted looking at variations in the time given for breaks and in piecework payment plans. The results yielded were not expected and the emerging explanations paved the way for the so-called Human relations movement (predecessor of HRM) which aim to understand employee dynamics in light of (informal) group dynamics. With this, Mayo moved away from a purely Tayloristic view of work and introduced ideas which resonate with concepts such as the sense of belonging and of being a team.

The ideas developed during the Hawthorne studies are discussed in greater detail in one of Mayo’s main works: The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (1933). They are then expanded and take a more general character in Mayo’s subsequent work: The Social problems of an Industrial Civilization (1945). This is the text we are reading for this episode. In this book, Mayo reports on a number of his research projects – including the studies in the Textile Mill in Philadelphia and the Hawthorne Studies previously mentioned – and provides an ambitious social commentary on industrial society. In this, he dialogues with a number of authors, including Chester Barnard, and expresses some nostalgic views on the relationship between the individual, the collective, and technology. Mayo also argues for the development an understanding of humans as social beings by definition, eschewing ideas put forward by economics and traditional political scientists who espouse ideas of the likes of Hobbes, and the importance of field studies in scientific development. 

Join us for Episode 9, as we discuss one of the most famous studies in management theory – Hawthorne studies! 

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Mayo, E. (1945) The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization. (Free copy available here)


8: The Ends of Men – Chester Barnard


Chester Barnard

Continuing with our discussion of Chester Barnard’s master work – The Functions of The Executive (1938) – we look at parts III & IV of the book. Here he is going into more depth (or less, depending on your point of view) on a number of organizational aspects and on the process of management.

Specifically, Barnard talks about the parts that make up an organization in Part III and, finally, the functions of the executive in Part IV. Constituents of the organization include authority, recruitment and retention of personnel, division of labour, and a theory of decision making; and the responsibilities of the executive centre on how to facilitate communication, formulate strategy and purpose, and select the most appropriate workforce.

For a broad introduction to the book, please refer to the Episode 7 page, and generally listen to that episode as we discuss much of what is necessary to understand Barnard’s terminology, philosophy and attitude towards organizations there. You will note that our conversation reflects the breath of Barnard’s legacy – he is building on Max Weber, F.W. Taylor, Henri Fayol and Elton Mayo among others, and inspiring theories such as organizational routines and systems theory.

This book is so important a classic that it took us two episodes (and seven total podcasts) to cover it. You won’t want to miss a single track!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 (Summary of E7 & E8)

Read with us:

Barnard, C.I. (1938). The Functions of the Executive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Part III: The Elements of Formal Organization

Part IV: The Functions of Organizations in Cooperative Systems

To Learn More:

Mahoney, J.T., and Godfrey, P. (2014). The Functions of The Executive at 75: An invitation to reconsider a timeless classic. Working Paper.