Popular management theories explained: Advantages and disadvantages

Looking to inspire further greatness in your team? We weigh up these tried-and-tested management theories to see which ones could work for you.


It might seem strange to apply old ideas to a field that’s constantly developing, but if anything, management is something that takes many different forms, methods and approaches. And since every employee, even those on the same team, is different, managers need to be able to appeal to their varying natures; what works for one person may not work for someone else.

As a result, many modern workplaces combine several different management theories to get the best from their employees – providing real, actionable ways to achieve organisational goals, boost productivity and motivate teams.

Here, we’ll detail some of the more popular management theories, touching on their origins and pros and cons in the process. Understanding different theories and knowing how to implement them can help to improve your management style, while simultaneously realising that elements of certain theories aren’t always conducive to effective leadership.

Scientific theory

Who created scientific theory?

American inventor and mechanical engineer, Frederick W. Taylor, often called the father of scientific management.

What does scientific theory involve?

Aiming to make work more efficient, Taylor created four principles to his theory which were as follows:

  • Each task should be studied to determine the most efficient way of doing the task, disrupting traditional work processes
  • Workers should be matched to jobs that align with both their abilities and motivation
  • Workers should be monitored closely to ensure they only follow best working practices
  • Managers should spend time training employees and planning for future needs

businessman talking to his colleagues

What are the pros of scientific theory?

  • Increased efficiency of production
  • Introduction of rules and standard operating procedures
  • Selecting workers with skills/abilities that match the task
  • Improved worker performance

What are the cons of scientific theory?

  • Increased performance means more work for the same pay
  • Increased performance leads to the creation of fewer positions
  • Repetitive and monotonous tasks lead to employee dissatisfaction
  • Encourages micromanagement
  • Eliminates creative thinking and makes teamwork obsolete

Human relations theory

Who created human relations theory?

Australian-born psychologist Elton Mayo.

What does the human relations theory involve?

Tasked with improving productivity among dissatisfied employees, Mayo attempted to improve worker satisfaction by changing certain conditions such as lighting, temperature and break duration, all of which had a positive effect.

He then altered variables which would have a negative effect on satisfaction, like increasing the length of the workday and making quotas larger. Regardless of these good or bad changes, Mayo observed that worker satisfaction always increased. He thus concluded that performance was a result of how much attention was paid to workers; the more attention they received, the more valuable they felt.

businesswoman giving presentation to her colleagues in

What are the pros of human relations theory?

  • Improves productivity
  • Considers the wellbeing of employees
  • Stronger relationships between workers and manager
  • Improves employee retention

What are the cons of human relations theory?

  • Oversimplifies human behaviour
  • Makes it difficult to predict workplace behaviour
  • Favours personality over accomplishments

Systems theory

Who created systems theory?

Austrian biologist Ludwig Von Bertalanffy.

What does systems theory involve?

Bertalanffy’s background in biology explains a lot of thinking and verbiage around systems theory. Essentially, it proposes that each business is a system (like a living organism), composed of interacting elements that are affected by their environment.

In much the same way that a person isn’t simply a brain; a business is more than just the person in the highest position. Put simply, everything needs to work together for a business to succeed.

And since it’s a way of looking at the business holistically as opposed to it just being a management theory, it can be readily combined with other theories too.

What are the pros of systems theory?

  • Stronger focus on teamwork and the interrelationships of processes
  • Identifies the weak points in systems, not people
  • Emphasises planning throughout an organisation

colleagues having a business meeting

What are the cons of systems theory?

  • Difficult to successfully implement as companies grow
  • Not the best tool when in a crisis

Administrative theory

Who created administrative theory?

French mining engineer Henri Fayol.

What does administrative theory involve?

Seeking to examine a business from a top-down approach, Fayol concluded that management in general has six responsibilities with regards to managing employees:

  • Forecasting
  • Planning
  • Organising
  • Commanding
  • Coordinating
  • Controlling

From here, Fayol then developed 14 principles of administration that influence how managers should lead their team. Though some of these core ideas remain in practice today, it’s rare that all 14 principles are used by a single workplace. Nevertheless, these were as follows:

woman drawing her strategy on a board meeting

  • Division of work – Employees should have complementary skill sets to work in specialised areas.
  • Authority – Management needs authority to give employees orders. This authority must be agreed upon.
  • Discipline – Employees listen to commands and have the discipline to get work done.
  • Unity of command – Employees answer to their managers. Going over a manager’s head would be an example of breaking this principle.
  • Unity of direction – Teams should be striving for common goals.
  • Subordination of individual interests – The team comes before the individual.
  • Remuneration – There are monetary and non-monetary versions of remuneration, which are both needed to motivate employees.
  • Centralisation – There should be a balance between decision-making power vis-a-vis company directors and mid-level managers, for instance.
  • Scalar chain – Each company should have clear hierarchical structures.
  • Order – A workplace should be clean, tidy and well organised.
  • Equity – Employees should be treated well.
  • Stability of tenure of personnel – This principle suggests that businesses should try to limit turnover and keep employees around as they accumulate knowledge and improve.
  • Initiative – Employees should share ideas and be rewarded for their thinking.
  • Esprit de corps – Managers should work to keep employees engaged and interested.

business colleagues talking

What are the pros of administrative theory?

  • Promotes the concept of team
  • Motivates employees through fair compensation
  • Employees are treated with respect

What are the cons of administrative theory?

  • The idea of a good workplace varies from manager to manager
  • Not every company requires a clear organisational hierarchy

Bureaucratic theory

Who created bureaucratic theory?

German sociologist Max Weber

What does bureaucratic theory involve?

Weber proposed that a business or team is at its most effective when it is structured hierarchically with clear rules and roles, which he encapsulated in five principles:

  • Task specialisation: Each employee should fulfil a specific role within a company
  • Hierarchy: Each company should have a clear hierarchy within the organisation
  • Formal selection: When selecting leaders, businesses should consider a person’s qualifications when appointing them to certain roles
  • Rules and requirements: Everyone should know what’s expected of them. Weber wanted businesses to have uniform standards; rules are essential to this goal
  • Impersonal: The resulting rules and regulations make a business structure impersonal – therefore, promotions ought not to be about emotional or personal ties, but rather should be based on performance.

businessman showing his team plans

What are the pros of bureaucratic theory?

  • Emphasises the importance of certain rules within an organisation, i.e. best practices
  • Discourages favouritism
  • Creates a foundation for scalability

What are the cons of administrative theory?

  • Almost impossible to keep emotions out of business
  • Difficult to maintain high morale
  • Creates large wage gaps
  • High potential for inefficiency, which is then difficult to change

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