Social Systems Theory
Conflict and ambiguity tend to pose for the individual special problems of adjustment. How each man feels about these problems and how he reacts to them depends upon two further sets of factors. The first of these is his personality, considered as a set of predispositions formed throughout his previous life history. The second includes all his contemporaneous relationships with the members of his role set....Both these sets of factors will affect the behavior of his role sender toward him. Both will also tend to condition his reactions to conflict and ambiguity, and both, finally, may themselves be modified by the particular coping patterns he adopts in response to role conflict and ambiguity of long standing.
-- Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, and Snoek ( 1964, p. 35)
Role theory, that is the conceptual framework that examines people in organizations in terms of the ways in which they meet the expectations other significant people have for their job performance, is in an important sense a corollary to bureaucratic theory. Whereas the theory of bureaucracy ( Weber, 1946, 1947) highlights structural relationships in organizations, especially structures of control and coordination, role theory emphasizes the factors that influence the work behavior of individuals in organizations. These factors include those that shape people's perceptions of their jobs, motivate them to fulfill organizational expectations for job performance, and engender stress for them as they seek to meet the expectations that define their roles in the organization.
As noted in the discussion about bureaucratic theory in chapter 5, Weber focused on describing the purely structural characteristics of large, efficient organizations. Bureaucratic theory describes "functionaries" but makes no mention of people, per se, except in terms of such characteristics as "technical expertise" and how people are organized and managed to carry out their functions effectively and efficiently. What bureaucratic theory lacks is any explicit recognition of what McGregor ( 1960) was later to call "the human side of the enterprise." In broad terms, at least, Weber was aware of the negative possibilities inherent in bureaucracy: