Theoretical Foundations

The key area of theoretical foundations includes academic work that can inform organisation design.


W. Richard Scott & Gerald F. Davis
Organizations and Organizing: Rational, Natural and Open Systems Perspectives
Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007

This is a comprehensive overview of foundational and contemporary organisation and management theory, including many aspects that are relevant to organisational design. This is more of a textbook than a “how to” book, providing insights into “how” and “why” organisations have evolved in the way they have.

Richard J .Boland Jr. & Fred Collopy (Eds.)
Managing as Designing
Stanford University Press, 2004

This work was influential in repositioning the academic view on organisation design from an analytical field to a more creative, productive field. The book is a collection of papers and keynotes by the likes of architect Frank Gehry and organisational theorist Karl Weick.

Georges Romme
The Quest for Professionalism: The Case of Management and Entrepreneurship
Oxford University Press, 2016

Should management become a profession, and if so, how? This book functions as a clear warning, because the societal costs and damage caused by mismanagement and other forms of managerial amateurism are huge. Georges Romme argues that professionalism in management requires a substantial societal challenge, on par with for example climate change. It argues that professionalism has to move away from the idea of management being confined to a few people at the top of the organisation, toward management as a technology for distributing power and leadership throughout the whole organisation.

Garth Morgan
Images of Organization (Updated Edition)
Sage Publications, 2006

A more academic book, this is a fascinating survey of looking at organisations through different lenses: as psychic prisons, as political systems and as machines, among others.

Mary Jo Hatch & Ann L. Cunliffe
Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives
Oxford University Press, 2013

Easy to understand discussion and analysis of theories of organisation with practical examples and clear explanations.


A. H. Van de Ven, M. Ganco & C. R. Hinings (2013), ‘Returning to the Frontier of Contingency Theory of Organizational and Institutional Designs’, The Academy of Management Annals, 7, 1, 391-438.

An excellent overview of the evolution of academic thinking about organisation design, from scientific management to contingency theory and contemporary, more creative design approaches. Interestingly it also covers complexity theory in relation to organisation design.

H. Mintzberg (1980), ‘Structure in 5’s: A Synthesis of the Research on Organization Design’, Management Science, 26, 3, 322-341.

This is Mintzberg’s classic, which describes the five basic configurations: simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, divisionalised form, and adhocracy. Still a good read, if you keep in mind the context of when it was written.

G. Romme (2003), ‘Making a Difference: Organization as Design’, Organization Science, 14, 5, 558–573.

A plea for more design-oriented research in organisation studies, in order to build a body of organisation design knowledge. It proposes a framework for communication and collaboration between the science and design modes, and argues that scholars in organisation studies can guide human beings in the process of designing and developing their organisations toward more humane, participative, and productive futures. In this respect, the organization discipline can make a difference.

D. Nadler & M. Tushman, M. (1999), ‘The Organization of the Future: Strategic Imperatives and Core Competencies for the 21st century’, Organizational Dynamics, 28,1, 45–60.

There are characteristics of today’s organisation design that are timeless, but there are also new strategic imperatives that flow from the reshaped environment that will raise design issues for the organisation of the future. Nadler and Tushman argue that the environment will continue to drive the strategic architecture or an enterprise and the variety of ways in which the enterprise manages the work of its people in pursuit of strategic objectives. At the same time, the changing business environment will create five strategic imperatives for future organisations: (1) focus portfolios, with various business models; (2) abbreviate strategic life cycles; (3) create “go-to-market” flexibility; (4) enhance competitive innovation; (5) and manage intra-enterprise cannibalism.

K. Pandza & Thorpe, R. (2010), ‘Management as Design, But What Kind of Design? An Appraisal of the Design Science Analogy for Management’, British Journal of Management 21,171-186.

A critical contribution to the debate that design science offers a distinct perspective on management as a field of study. This article is arguably considered a significant theoretical contribution to the field of organisation design because it unpacks debates about both explanatory-based and prescriptive-based social sciences approaches and outlines the usefulness and possible future directions of the field of organisation design.

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