This article throws light upon the top eight schools of management theory. The schools are: 1. Management Process School. 2. Empirical School. 3. Human Behaviour or Human Relation School. 4. Social School. 5. Decision Theory School. 6. Mathematical or Quantitative Management School. 7. Systems Management School. 8. Contingency Approach School.

1. Management Process School:

Henri Fayol is known as the father of this School of Thought. Other contributors to it are: J.D. Mooney, AC. Railey, Lyndall Urwick, Harold Koontz, Newman, Summers and McFarland. According to this school, management can best be studied in terms of the process that it involves.

The management process consisting of five broad categories of functions, viz. planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling is evident in all managerial situations. Following this, this school evolved some universal principles of management. These principles of management could be equally well applied to business, government, or any other type of organisation.

The main features of the Management Process School or the Operational Approach School are:


i. Management is the study of functions of managers.

ii. The functions of managers are the same irrespective of the type of organisation.

iii. The conceptual frame work of management can be built through an analysis of the processes of management and identification of principles.

iv. The functions of management, viz., planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling are the core of management.


Limitations of Management Process School:

i. The various operational theorists do not agree about the functions of management.

ii. The so-called universal principles of management do not always stand the test of empirical scrutiny.

iii. Organisations function under dynamic conditions and, therefore, searching for universal prin­ciples may not always be a fruitful exercise.

2. The Empirical School or the Management by Customs School:


The main contributors to this school of thought are the Harvard Business school, Ernest Dale, Mooney, Urwick, Railey and American Management Association. This school of thought considers management as the study of experience. Analysing the experi­ences of successful managers or the mistakes of poor managers from case studies one somehow learns how to manage.

The main features of this school are:

i. Management is the study of managerial experiences.

ii. The managerial experiences can be passed over to the practitioners and students.


iii. The techniques used in successful cases can be used by future managers.

iv. Theoretical researches can be combined with practical experiences.

This case study method is best for imparting management education; it contributes to the devel­opment of managerial skills.

Limitations of the Empirical School:


This school depends heavily on the historical methods of study. It goes mainly by precedents. It does not realize that a manager has to work under dynamic conditions and that history does not exactly repeats itself. The situations in the past may not have been exactly the same as of the present.

In the words of Harold Koontz “Management unlike law is not a science based on precedents and situations in the future exactly comparable to the past are exceedingly unlikely to occur. There is a positive danger in relying too much on past experience and on uninstalled history of managerial problem solving for the simple reason that the technique or approach found right in the past may not fit a situation of the future.”

3. The Human Relations or the Human Behaviour School:

The main contributors to this school of thought are Elton Mayo, Roethlisberger, McGregor and Keith Davis. This school has also been benefitted from the contributions of psychologists like Maslow, Argyris, Herzberg etc.

This school had its origins in a series of experiments conducted by Mayo and his associates at the Harvard School of Business at the Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works, near Chicago. These studies brought out for the first time the important relationships between social factors and productivity.


The main features of this school are:

i. The school draws its concept from psychology, sociology, human relations, inter-personal relationships, satisfaction of worker’s needs etc.

ii. Since management is getting things done through people, the managers must have a basic under­standing of human behaviour and human relations in all its aspects, particularly in the context of work groups and organisations.

iii. Management must study inter-personnel relations among people.


iv. Greater production and higher motivation can be achieved only through good human relations.

v. Motivation, leadership, communication, participative management and group dynamics are the core of this school of thought.

Various limitations of this School of Thought are:

i. This approach talks about organisation and organisational behaviour in vague terms.

ii. If the study of management were to be confined to human behaviour or human relations, it would be unduly restricting the scope of technical aspects of job etc., which are equally important.

4. The Social System School:

The main pioneers and contributors to this school of thought are Max Weber, Moreno, Simon and Rensis Likert. This school of thought is closely related to the Human Relations School of thought.


The main features of this school of thought are:

i. Management is a social system, a system of Cultural relationships.

ii. Formal organisations represent cultural relationships of the social groups working within the organisation.

People working together in groups have their own norms and values which have a bearing on the contribution that they are likely to make towards the goals of the organisation.

iii. Cooperation and team spirit among the group members is necessary for the achievement of organisational objectives.

iv. Management has to direct its efforts towards establishing harmony between the goals of the organisation and those of the working groups.


Uses and Limitations:

This school of thought is very useful for the practising managers. All the managers operate in a social system and the organisation is likely to prosper most if the social demands of the society in which it operates are fully recognised.

This school attaches maximum importance to the study of sociology and thus tends to overlook many management concepts, principles and techniques which are also important to practising managers.

5. Decision Theory School:

The main contributors and thinkers belonging to this school of thought are Chester Bernard, James March, Herbert Simon, Forrester and Richard Cyert. According to this school, the essence of management lies in decision making. Whatever a manager does is the outcome of a decision made by him through rational choice from among different alternatives available to him.

By expanding the view point well beyond the process of evaluating alternatives, many use the theory to examine the nature of organisation structure; the psychological and social reactions of individuals and groups, the development of basic information for decisions and the analysis of value considerations with respect to goals, communication networks and incentives.

Main features of this school of thought are:


i. Management is essentially decision-making.

ii. The members of any organisation are essentially decision-makers and problem solvers. Hence management is the study of the process of decision making and the personalities and behaviour of decision-makers.

iii. The quality of decisions is a prime factor for increasing the efficiency of the organisation.

iv. Management information system and the process and technique of decision making form the subject matter of the study of management.

The uses and limitations of this school are:

This school though contributes a lot towards the sharpening of managerial tools especially for making suitable decisions in the organisation, the question still remains to be answered is whether the decision theory school can do justice to the various aspects of management which include besides decision making such important functions as coordination, organising and im­plementation of decisions.

6. The Mathematical School:


The prominent contributors to this school are Taylor, Gilbreth, Gantt, Joel Dean, Newmann, Ackoff and Hicks. This school believes that if management is a logical process, it can, be expressed in terms of mathematical symbols and relationships. Effective solution to the problems of management can be achieved through application of suitable simulation and the use of analytic and synthetic mathematical techniques.

The contributors of this school have been using mathematical and quantitative techniques in developing models of the various kinds of decisions and problems involved in managing organ­isations. Dr. Koontz had defined the mathematical school as an Operations Research School. Operations Research usually requires computer technology to analyse alternatives. Gaming theory, Queuing theory and linear programming are some of its techniques.

The essential features of this school are:

i. Management is concerned with problem solving and it must make use of mathematical tools and techniques for the purpose.

ii. The different factors involved in management can be quantified and expressed in the form of models i.e., in the form of equations which can be solved with the help of mathematical techniques.

iii. Management problems can be described in mathematical models.


iv. Operations Research, Mathematical tools, simulation and model building are the basic method­ologies developed by this school of thought.


Mathematical approach has helped management in systematising thinking and has lent a certain measure of precision to the management discipline.


i. The mathematical models cannot be considered as a substitute for sound judgment.

ii. There are certain phases of the management process which cannot be expressed in mathematical symbols and formulae.

7. The Systems Approach School:

The systems approach school is of recent origin having developed in late 1960’s.

The prominent contributors to this school of thought are Kenneth, Boulding, Johnson, Cast Rosen Zweig and Churchman. Another notable contributor is Martin particularly in the field of management audit system. A system is composed of elements or sub-systems that are related and dependent upon each other to form the whole.

The main features of this school of thought are:

ii. A system has a number of sub-systems, parts and subparts.

ii. All the subsystems, parts and subparts are mutually related to each other. This relationship is in the context of the whole and is very complex. A change in one part will effect changes in others.

iii. The systems approach emphasises the study of the various parts in their inter-relationships rather than in isolation from each other.

iv. The system approach to management brings out the complexity of a real life management problem much more sharply than any of the other approaches.


The systems approach has been used in studying the function of complex organisations and as the base for new kinds of organisation like the project management organisation. The systems approach has an edge over the other approaches in so far as its closeness to reality is concerned.


The problem with the systems approach is its utter complexity particularly when it comes to a study of large and complex organisations.

8. The Contingency Approach School of Management:

The major contributors to this school of thought are Joan Woodward, Fiedler, Lorsch and Lawrence. Theorists of the process school, quantitative, behavioural and systems schools often assume that their concepts and techniques have universal applicability, which is not so. These concepts may, work in some situations and not in others.

The Contingency Approach to management is based upon the fact that there is no one best way to handle any of the management problems. The applications of management principles and practices should be contingent upon the existing circumstances. Process, behavioural, quantita­tive and systems tools of management should be applied situationally.

There are three major parts of the overall conceptual framework for contingency management:

(i) Environment.

(ii) Management concepts, principles and techniques.

(iii) Contingent relationship between (i) & (ii) above.

The environmental variables are independent. Management variables (process, quantitative, behavioural and systems tools) are dependent. Every manager has to apply the various schools of thought (approaches) to management according to the demands of the situation. It is the basic function of managers to analyse and understand the environments in which they function, before adopting any techniques, processes and practices.

The choice of approaches and also their effectiveness is contingent on the behaviour and dynamics of situational variables. There is no universally valid one best way of doing things. Contingency thinking helps managers in several ways in performing their functions of planning, organising, direction and control.

It widens their horizons beyond the theory of management, its concepts, principles, techniques and methods. It leads them to be sensitive, alert and adaptive to situation-behavioural variables, while tailoring their approaches and styles.

Contingency thinking enlarges the area of freedom of operation of managers. They are not handicapped by having to apply the same approach to diverse situations. They can even think of a blend of known approaches as demanded by the existing situations. The contingency approach seems to hold a great deal of promise for the future development of management theory and practice.