The Contingency Approach
One pioneer who was instrumental in moving organization theory to the contingency approach was Joan Woodward, who studies the effect of technology on the organization. Woodward found that many variations in organization structure were associated with differences in manufacturing techniques. As Woodward pointed out:
"Different technologies imposed different kinds of demands, and these demands had to met through an appropriate structure. Commercially successful firms seemed to be those in which function and form were complementary.
Several authors have further developed some ides of contingency thinking. One of these important contributors is James D. Thompson, whose work in the area of technology's effect on organization is already a classic.
Thompson argued that organizations that experience similar technological problems will engage in similar behavior.
The contingency view approaches management from a totally different perspective than do the formal schools of management. The classical, behavioral, and management science schools assumed a universal approach. They proposed the discovery of "one-best-way" management principles that applied the same techniques to every organization. However, experienced managers know that not all people and situations should be handled identically. Therefore, the contingency approach holds that universal solutions and principles cannot be applied to organizations. In simple terms, the contingency theory suggests that what managers do in practice depends on, or is contingent upon, a given set of circumstances - a situation.
The contingency perspective tells us that the effectiveness of various managerial practices, styles, techniques, and functions will vary according to the particular circumstances of the situation. Management's task is to search for important contingencies. The main determinants of the contingency view relate to the external and internal environments of the organization. However, the contingency approach is not without its critics. Its major problem is that it often is used as an excuse for not acquiring formal knowledge about management. This formal study of management helps managers decide which factors are relevant in what situations and its certain elements should serve as a foundation for continued growth and developments.