Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Where Are the New Organization Theories? Evolution, Development and Theoretical Debate

Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Where Are the New Organization Theories? Evolution, Development and Theoretical Debate

Article excerpt

This article examines organization, management, and leadership theory development and evolution from the perspectives of legitimacy and efficacy. In addition, it analyzes selected theorists 'debates, supports rigorous testing and grounded theory approaches, advocates the use of evidence-based theory development, and offers the 5P's Model of Strategic Leadership as an example of a model and related theories that were originated using evidence-based theory development. We suggest that researchers, faculty members, and business practitioners should be able to contemplate and debate the usefulness of various theories and models with the understanding that application is essential for substantiation of their worth. We offer this article in order to generate a respectful debate about the introduction of new organization theories. This can occur if those in power in the various educational institutions, business organizations, professional organizations, and media outlets are more open to the creation of conceptual models and theories, the legitimacy and usefulness of which can later be substantiated through application.


The objectives of this article are: (1) to examine the history of various organization theories and their development from the perspective of legitimacy and efficacy, (2) to analyze selected debates regarding theory development and various theories, (3) to advocate the use of evidence-based theory development, and (4) to provide an example of a model and related theories that we created after reviewing existing theories and determining gaps in terms of implementation and alignment. We are not rejecting the need for rigorous testing of theories. We are simply advocating the proposal of conceptual theories and models for debate and potential usefulness. Then through application of the theories, they can be tested in terms of validity and the extent to which they are useful.

This paper suggests that many very useful new organizational theories and models as well as extensions and adaptations of other theories and models have been, and are being, developed. The difficulties in getting these theories and models considered for legitimacy and usefulness range from realistic questions to superciliousness as struggles and debates continue among theorists, practitioners, and empirical scientists. Walsh, Meyer, and Schoonhoven (2006: 657) suggest other potential problems including "the irrelevance of organization theory," the debates among two groups-those who "argue for closer ties to business practice" and those who "argue for maintaining our academic distance," and the fact that organization theorists "find ourselves so self-critical and . . . fundamentally, adrift." We would not go so far as to say that we are adrift, but we are perhaps so self-critical that we do not allow theories to be presented so that they can be debated.

We believe that an understanding of, and appreciation for, the history of management and organization theory is valuable. Yet we as management and organization theorists, scholars, and researchers are also aware that times have changed, and continue to change, dramatically. Business planning horizons are much shorter and competitive pressures (often intense) lead to a more rapid rate of business innovation than ever before. We propose that we, as the academicians studying these phenomena, should be thinking innovatively about the theory development process. We suggest that the originators of new theories and models and extensions of existing theories and models should be able to present in the literature for debate and later testing for application potential. To facilitate organization theory development for introduction and application in today's rapidly changing environment, we advocate the evidence-based approach and other innovative approaches to the creation of new, and the extension of existing, theories and models.

Debates among Theorists

While various management and organization theories have been empirically tested over the years, many of them were initially proposed as conceptual theories and models and as such, accepted as legitimate prior to empirical testing. …

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