Mary Parker Follett Theory

admin28 March 2023Last Update :

The Pioneering Insights of Mary Parker Follett

Mary Parker Follett was a visionary in the field of management theory and practice, whose ideas were far ahead of her time. Born in 1868, Follett was an American social worker, management consultant, philosopher, and pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. Her work laid the foundation for many modern concepts in leadership, management, and conflict resolution. This article delves into the core principles of Follett’s theory, exploring its relevance and application in today’s organizational landscape.

Understanding Follett’s Management Philosophy

Follett’s management philosophy was centered around the idea of “creative experience,” which emphasized the dynamic, evolving nature of human interactions within organizations. She believed that through understanding the complexities of human behavior, managers could harness the potential of their workforce more effectively. Her approach was holistic, considering the organization as an integrated whole rather than a collection of individual parts.

The Four Pillars of Follett’s Theory

Follett’s theory can be distilled into four main pillars: the power of collective action, the importance of reciprocal relationships, the concept of power-with rather than power-over, and the integration of interests for conflict resolution. Each of these pillars represents a fundamental shift from traditional management practices of the early 20th century.

  • Collective Action: Follett believed that groups could achieve more than individuals working in isolation. She emphasized the importance of collective decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Reciprocal Relationships: She argued that all parties in an organization are interdependent and that effective management requires recognizing and nurturing these reciprocal relationships.
  • Power-With: Follett introduced the concept of “power-with” as opposed to “power-over,” advocating for cooperative power dynamics within organizations.
  • Integration of Interests: She suggested that conflicts should be resolved by finding solutions that satisfy all parties’ interests, a process she termed “integration,” rather than through domination or compromise.

Applying Follett’s Concepts in Modern Management

Despite being developed over a century ago, Follett’s concepts remain highly relevant in contemporary management practices. Her ideas prefigured modern theories such as participative decision-making, empowerment, and transformational leadership.

Participative Decision-Making

Follett’s emphasis on collective action is echoed in the participative decision-making process, where employees at all levels are involved in shaping decisions that affect their work and the organization. This approach not only improves employee engagement and satisfaction but also leads to more innovative and effective solutions.

Empowerment and Transformational Leadership

The idea of “power-with” has influenced the development of empowerment and transformational leadership models. Leaders who empower their employees create an environment where individuals can take initiative and contribute to their fullest potential. Transformational leaders, much like Follett envisioned, inspire and motivate their followers to achieve higher levels of performance by focusing on common goals and values.

Conflict Resolution through Integration

Follett’s approach to conflict resolution through integration is reflected in modern alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and collaborative problem-solving. These methods seek to find win-win solutions that address the underlying interests of all parties involved.

Case Studies and Examples

To illustrate the practical application of Follett’s theory, let’s examine a few case studies and examples from various organizations that have successfully implemented her principles.

Case Study: A Tech Company’s Shift to Participative Decision-Making

Consider a tech company that transitioned from a traditional top-down management structure to a participative decision-making model. By involving employees in strategic discussions and product development meetings, the company not only improved its innovation pipeline but also saw a significant increase in employee retention and job satisfaction.

Example: Empowerment in a Retail Chain

A national retail chain implemented an empowerment program where store managers were given more autonomy to make decisions regarding inventory management, staffing, and promotions. This shift led to better-adapted local strategies, increased sales, and higher morale among employees.

Conflict Resolution in a Non-Profit Organization

A non-profit organization faced internal conflict between its fundraising and program delivery departments. By applying Follett’s integration method, the organization facilitated a series of workshops where both departments worked together to understand each other’s interests and develop a joint strategy that aligned their goals. This not only resolved the conflict but also resulted in more effective and cohesive operations.

Statistics and Research Findings

Research in organizational behavior and management has provided empirical support for many of Follett’s ideas. For instance, studies have shown that participative decision-making can lead to higher employee satisfaction and productivity. Additionally, empowerment practices are linked to increased job performance and organizational commitment.

Unique Insights into Follett’s Theory

One of the unique insights of Follett’s theory is her anticipation of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She recognized that diverse perspectives could lead to more creative solutions and that inclusive practices were essential for harnessing the full potential of an organization’s workforce.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Mary Parker Follett’s theory differ from other management theories?

Follett’s theory is distinct in its emphasis on cooperation, collective action, and the integration of interests. Unlike the scientific management approach of her time, which focused on efficiency and task optimization, Follett’s theory prioritized human relationships and the social aspects of organizational life.

Can Follett’s theory be applied in all types of organizations?

While Follett’s principles are universally applicable, the specific implementation may vary depending on the organization’s size, culture, and industry. However, the core ideas of participative decision-making, empowerment, and conflict resolution through integration can be adapted to suit different organizational contexts.

What is the relevance of Mary Parker Follett’s theory in the 21st century?

Follett’s theory remains highly relevant in the 21st century as organizations increasingly recognize the value of employee engagement, collaborative leadership, and innovative conflict resolution methods. Her ideas continue to influence modern management practices and contribute to the development of more dynamic and responsive organizations.


For further reading and a deeper understanding of Mary Parker Follett’s contributions to management theory, the following academic sources and external links provide comprehensive information:

By exploring these resources, readers can gain a more comprehensive understanding of Follett’s impact on management thought and practice.

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