Mary Parker Follet occupies a prominent place in the community of thinkers on administrative thoughts though she is less known in comparison to other thinkers. She initiated studies on industrial groups. Traditionally the social and political scientists concentrated on the studies of the state or the society but her studies were concentrated on the industry. She evolved principles of human association and organization in the context of industry. Her prominent works include The Speaker of the House of Representatives (1909), The New State (1920), Creative Experience (1924) and Dynamic Administration (1941). Dynamic Administration was posthumously edited by Metcalf and Urwick. Her views will be discussed under the following heads:
Idea of Constructive Conflict & the Ways of Resolving It
Follet gives quite important place to conflicts in her writings. According to her, conflicts are result of “socially valuable differences” and these are normal processes which may occur in any activity of the organization. Conflict should not be seen with any biases. It is neither good nor bad. It is just the appearance of difference which should be capitalized upon. As all polishing is done by friction, similarly conflicts could also be constructive and could enrich all. Follet gives three ways of dealing with conflict. These are described below:
A. Domination – It means victory of one side over the other. This seems to be the easiest way of resolving conflicts but it is not successful in the long run. The “repressed wishes” of the dominated always rebel against the dominator whenever it is possible.
B. Compromise – People settle most of their conflicts through compromise only. Each party to the conflict gives up a little in this method to resolve it. This quite wide accepted way of resolving conflict still people are reluctant to go for it as it involves losing something.
C. Integration – In this method two desires are integrated and there is no need to sacrifice its desires on any side. Follet favors this method of resolving conflict in comparison to other two methods. Domination is not preferable due to obvious reasons, compromise does not create something new but integration gives rise to the new ideas and innovation in social relationships. Integration also solves the problem permanently as it strikes at the root of the problem. In sum, integration is “win all” situation.
Steps in the Process of Integration
Follet told the following steps in the process of integration. These are as follows:
- The first step is to bring the differences into open instead of suppressing them. The immediate necessity in resolving conflict is to understand and identify the nature of conflict.
- Second step is to divide the whole conflict into smaller constituent parts. Sometimes the opposite process may be followed.
- Third step is the anticipation of the conflict. It means knowing which way the conflict would head once the proposals are prepared and presented to the parties. It is like a game of chess where all moves are pre-calculated. “Circular” not linear response is required in anticipation of conflict.
Though Follet proposes integration as the way to resolve conflicts permanently still is alive to the problems in the whole process. Lack of inventiveness, habit of enjoying domination and use of proper language etc. are some of the problems. She emphasises on the proper training to resolve all these issues. According to her, courses on the art of co-operative thinking should be there both for the managers as well for the workers to master the art of integration.
The Law of Situation: Depersonalising Orders
Follet was concerned about too much of “Bossism” in giving orders. To avoid it she was suggested depersonalising orders. For this law of situation was proposed by Follet. According to this law, the order should not be given by one person to the other, rather both the order giver and the order taker should take the order from the situation. This law gives importance to the authority of the situation rather than the authority of the individual. Further Follet insists that the orders should be integral to the situation I. e. they should keep pace with the situation and should not be static. This will be possible only when the orders are taken from the situation and not externally.
Concept of “Power-with” rather than “Power over”
Follet terms power as the “ability to make things happen, to be a causal agent, to initiate change”. She distinguishes “power-over” from “power-with”. The former represents coercive power while the latter represents the co-active power. Power-with is better as people wish to be seen as working with someone rather than under someone. Also it promotes better understanding, reduces friction and encourages co-operation. According to Follet it is not possible for people to get rid of power over concept. But this can be accomplished by following the law of situations, functional unity and integration. Functional unity means that within his own sphere of functions, everyone has authority and responsibility for accomplishing those functions.
Functional Unity: Authority of Function
As already mentioned, functional unity means that for each allotted function each has authority and responsibility which go with that function. Further as authority rests with the function and not with the individual, authority/power cannot be delegated. Power is the result of knowledge and ability so it cannot be delegated. According to Follet, derivation of authority from some central authority should be replaced by the “authority of function” in which each individual has final authority within the allotted functions. Authority can be conferred on others but this is not delegation. According to her, delegation of authority should be an “obsolete expression”. Like authority responsibility also flows from the situation. In the overall scheme of the things according to functional unity, the question that should be asked is “for what is he responsible rather than to whom is he responsible”.
Concept of Leadership according to Follet
According to Follet the concept of leadership has also undergone significant changes due to the changing circumstances and new concepts such as human relations etc. Leadership does not come from the official status or position but from the attributes like encouraging initiative and energizing group. According to her such people are not just found at positions of power but throughout the organisation. She categorises three types of leaderships – leadership of position, leadership of personality and leadership of function. In modern organisations, those possess expert knowledge & skills and not the ones who have formal authority and personality actually lead. This is due to the fact that they take leadership due to the situation. It is the reason they can give orders even to
those in higher ranks. Follet lists three important functions of a leader. These are – coordination, definition of purpose and anticipation.
Critical Evaluation of Mary Parker Follet
Mary Parker Follet is called as one of the earliest behavioralists as she was among the earlier scholars to analyze the organizational behavior. Still some writers on organization theory have classified her as ‘classical’ thinker. She was criticized for not seeing the organizational processes in the social context. Some scholars regard her inconsistent in her approach as her ideas were not well organized. She analyzed the process of conflict resolution in detail and gave a new concept of integration. She negated the “Trait Theory” of leadership and advanced the situational variable to leadership. She conceived leadership to be function of three variables – the leader, followers and the situation. Situational control was the best form of control according to her.
Follet also gave the concept of “Cumulative Responsibility” which should be imbibed in the workers. According to this concept, realization of just the individual responsibility is not enough rather the workers should be made to realize “joint responsibility” which sensitizes them towards other units also. This automatically solves the problem of co- ordination also.
Due to her multi-dimensional focus, Urwick has described Follet as a “woman who had a universal mind.” Though her ideas on integration were termed as illusory as they were good to look at but difficult to achieve still her contributions were phenomenal and she was in fact ahead of her times.