The first attempts to understand the management and structure of organisations developed in the early part of the 20th Century and by 1950 three principal schools of thought existed.
These may be described as the Classical School, the Behavioural School and the Systems School. The Contingency School started to evolve around this time but did not find favour until the late 1960s and early 1970s. During the 1980s western management considered the success of Japan and its emphasis on quality. Writers such as Peters, Handy and Kanter tried to address the issues of the effects of the rapid increase in technology and globalisation and form the backbone of the Culture called Excellence movement.
Classical Approach is characterised by three propositions. Firstly, organisations are rational entities, the aim of which is to achieve specific goals through their organisations into formalised structures. Secondly, the design of organisations is a science and that there is one best universal form for all bodies. Finally, the Classical Approach rests solely on the belief that people are economic beings. The development of a hierarchical structure, together with prescriptive methodologies of working are indicative of what could be loosely, and pejoratively, termed “bureaucracies”.
Weber saw bureaucracies as technically superior to other forms of organisation. They introduced order and rationality into social life. The features of a bureaucracy can be summarised as specialisation, hierarchy of authority, a system of rules and impersonality. Hierarchy and the system of rules produce a rational legal system, which gives management the right to issue commands and the expectation for them to be obeyed. Impersonality ensures that the exercise of authority is carried out impartially.
The organisations created by the Classical Approach can become hidebound by their procedures, they may deny the humanity of their personnel and the rigidity of their structures act as a barrier to entrepreneurial activity.