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Koontz, H. 1961. The management theory jungle. The Journal of the Academy of Management 4(3): 174-188.

Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

Management Theory Main Page | Theories Main Page

The purpose of this article is to identify the various schools of management theory, indicate the source of the differences, and to provide some suggestions for disentangling the management theory jungle. Koontz describes six schools of management theory as follows.

1. The Management Process School

The management process school views management as a process of getting things done with people working in organized groups. Fathered by Henri Fayol1, this school views management theory as a way of organizing experience for practice, research and teaching. It begins by defining the functions of management.

2. The Empirical School

The empirical school views management theory as a study of experience. Koontz mentions Ernest Dale's2 comparative approach as an example which involves the study and analysis of cases. The general idea is that generalizations can be drawn from cases that can be applied as guides in similar situations.

3. The Human Behavior School

The central thesis of the human behavior school is that since management involves getting thing done with people, management theory must be centered on interpersonal relations. Their theory focuses on the motivation of the individual viewed as a socio-psychological being. This school is also referred to as the "human relations", "leadership", or "behavioral sciences approach". This school places emphasis on the study of inter - and intra-personal phenomena from the personality dynamics of individuals to the relations of cultures. Tannenbaum, Weschler and Massarik are the only authors referenced in this sestion.3

4. The Social System School

The members of the social system school of management theory view management as a social system. March and Simon's 1958 book Organizations4 is used as an example, but Koontz indicates that Chester Barnard is the spiritual father of this school of management.5 The social system school identifies the nature of the cultural relationships of various social groups and how they are related and integrated. Barnard's work includes a theory of cooperation which underlies the contributions of many others in this school. Herbert Simon, and others expanded the concept of social systems to include any cooperative and purposeful group interrelationship or behavior.

5. The Decision Theory School

The decision theory school of management concentrates on the rational approach to decisions where alternative ideas or courses of action are analyzed. This school is believed to have grown from the theory of consumer's choice associated with Jeremy Bentham and tends to be oriented toward economic model construction and mathematics. It grew out of economic analytical techniques such as utility maximization, indifference curves, marginal utility, and economic behavior under risk and uncertainty. The decision is the central focus.

6. The Mathematical School

The mathematical school of management views management as a system of mathematical models and processes. This includes the operations researchers and management scientists. But Koontz points out that in his view mathematics is a tool, not a school.

The Major Sources of Mental Entanglement that create the Management Theory Jungle

Five sources of entanglement or confusion include the following:

1. The Semantics Jungle - There is no agreement on the meaning of the words management, organization, leadership, communication, and human relations to give a few examples.

2. Differences in the Definition of Management as a Body of Knowledge - What is management? Who is a manager? If everything is management and everyone is a manager, how can management theory be regarded as a useful or scientific?

3. The a priori Assumption - Ignoring the work of Fayol, Mooney, Brown, Urwick, Gulick and others on the grounds that they are universalists.

4. The Misunderstanding of Principles - For example, confusion over the validity of principles such as unity of command, and span of control.

5. The Inability or Unwillingness of Management Theorists to Understand each other - The roadblock to understanding is unwillingness.

How to Disentangle the Management Theory Jungle

1. Definition of a Body of Knowledge - The first need is to define the field.

Koontz defines management in terms of the practitioner's frame of reference as "the art of getting things done through and with people in formally organized groups, the art of creating an environment in such an organized group where people can perform as individuals and yet cooperate toward attainment of group goals, the art of removing blocks to such performance, the art of optimizing efficiency in effectively reaching goals." In defining the body of knowledge management theorist must not confuse tools with content. For example, mathematics, operations research, accounting, economic theory, sociometry, and psychology are significant tools of management, but they are not part of the content of the field.

2. Integration of Management and other Disciplines 

3. The Clarification of Management Semantics

4. Willingness to Distill and Test Fundamentals

Criteria to Remember in Clarifying Management Theory

1. Management theory should deal with a manageable area of knowledge and inquiry.

2. Management theory should be useful in improving practice.

3. Management theory should not be lost in semantics, jargon not understandable to the practitioner.

4. Management theory should provide direction and efficiency to research and teaching.

5. Management theory must recognize that it is a part of a larger universe of knowledge and theory.


1 Fayol, H. 1916. Administration Industrielle et Generate; and Fayol, H. 1930. Industrial and General Administration. Translated from French by J. A. Coubrough. Pitman.

2 Dale, 1960. The Great Organizers. McGraw-Hill Book Company. (Also published in 1971).

3 Tannenbaum, R, I. R. Weschler and F. Massarik. 1961. Leadership and Organizations. McGraw-Hill Book Company.

4 March, J. G. and H. A. Simon. 1958. Organizations. New York: John Wiley.

5 Barnard, C. I. 1938. The Functions of the Executive. Harvard University Press. (The 30th Anniversary edition was published in 1971).

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Drucker, P. F. 1990. The emerging theory of manufacturing. Harvard Business Review (May-June): 94-102. (Summary).

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