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Four approaches in management and organisation - classical, human relations, systems thinking and contingency.

Approaches to management and organisation

OB cannot be fully understood without examining the interrelationships between the variables and dimensions of human behaviour and interaction.

The key limitation of the study of organisations and behaviour is identifying a single solution to a particular problem because of the absence of one right answer. This makes the study of OB quite complex.

There are different approaches in exploring the development of management and organisation. These include:

  • classical
  • human relations
  • systems thinking
  • contingency

As a starting point, these approaches are summarised below.


The classical approach is seen as the oldest approach to management and organisation. Its emphasis is on formal structures, principles of management and a clear definition of duties and responsibilities. It focuses on the work itself as the centre of the organisation, rather than the individuals, and a defined hierarchy of management.

Human relations

The human relations approach places the individuals and groups at the centre of the organisation. It pays particular attention to social factors at work and the informal organisation and behaviour of people. The intention of this approach is to encourage organisational productivity by engaging with the individuals themselves.

Systems thinking

The systems thinking approach perceives the organisation within a broader external environment and emphasises different modes/forms of interactions. It adopts the idea that, if we want to understand and solve a problem in an organisation, we need to see it as part of a bigger overall system. This then leads us to acknowledge that an organisation is made up of different components which affect each other as they interact with the larger external environment.

In terms of its link to OB, systems thinking suggests that you cannot study or understand each component part in isolation. If we do this, then we fail to understand the essence of the whole organisation.


The contingency approach highlights the importance of gaining an understanding of the different types of relationships within the organisation’s structure, its sub-systems and the external environment. It goes further by stating that there is no one best way to design and manage an organisation, as there are a number of variables that influence organisational effectiveness and performance. This approach doesn’t indicate that there is a ‘best practice’, but instead it provides insight into the situational and contextual factors that may inform management decisions.

Your task

You’re now invited to investigate these different approaches to management and organisation further.

Can you identify any of these approaches in your practice? Feel free to share your thoughts and examples with your fellow learners.

Don’t forget to capture your thinking in your learning log or portfolio.

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Organisational Behaviour: How to Understand Your People

Coventry University