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.