Mary Parker Follett
(3 September 1868 — 18 December 1933) was an American social worker, management consultant and pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. She also authored a number of books and numerous essays, articles and speeches on democracy, human relations, political philosophy, psychology, organizational behavior and conflict resolution. Along with Lillian Gilbreth, Mary Parker Follett was one of two great women management gurus in the early days of classical management theory.She admonished overmanaging employees, a process now known as micromanaging, as “bossism” and she is regarded by some writers as the “mother” of Scientific Management. As such she was one of the first women ever invited to address the London School of Economics, where she spoke on cutting-edge management issues. She also distinguished herself in the field of management by being sought out by President Theodore Roosevelt as his personal consultant on managing not-for-profit, non-governmental, and voluntary organizations. In her capacity as a management theorist, Mary Parker Follett pioneered the understanding of lateral processes within hierarchical organizations (which recognition led directly to the formation of matrix-style organizations, the first of which was DuPont, in the 1920s), the importance of informal processes within organizations, and the idea of the "authority of expertise"--which really served to modify the typology of authority developed by her German contemporary, Max Weber, who broke authority down into three separate categories: legitimate, traditional and charismatic.
Follett was born in Massachusetts and spent much of her early life there. In September 1885 she enrolled in Anna Ticknor's Society to Encourage Studies at Home. In 1898 she graduated from Radcliffe College, but was denied a doctorate at Harvard on the grounds that she was a woman.
Over the next three decades, however, she published many works, including:
- The Speaker of the House of Representatives (1896)
- The New State (1918)
- Creative Experience (1924)
- Dynamic Administration (1942) (this collection of speeches and short articles was published posthumously)
She recognized the holistic nature of community and advanced the idea of "reciprocal relationships" in understanding the dynamic aspects of the individual in relationship to others. Follett advocated the principle of what she termed "integration," or noncoercive power-sharing based on the use of her concept of "power with" rather than "power over." Her ideas on negotiation, power, and employee participation were highly influential in the development of the fields of organizational studies, alternative dispute resolution, and the Human Relations Movement. She was also a pioneer in the establishment of community centers.
Even though most of Mary Parker Follett's writings remained known in very limited circles until republished at the beginning of this decade (beginning with Pauline C. Graham's first-rate work), her ideas gained great influence after Chester Barnard, a New Jersey Bell exec and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, published his seminal treatment of executive management, The Functions of the Executive
. Barnard's work, which stressed the critical role of "soft" factors such as "communication" and "informal processes" in organizations, owed a telling yet undisclosed debt to Follett's thought and writings. In addition, her emphasis on such soft factors paralleled the work of Elton Mayo at Western Electric's Hawthorne Plant, and presaged the rise of the Human Relations Movement, as developed through the work of such figures as Abraham Maslow, Kurt Lewin, Douglas McGregor, Chris Argyris, Dick Beckhard and other breakthrough contributors to the field of Organizational Development or "OD". Her influence can also be seen indirectly perhaps in the work of Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, Lee Bradford, Edie Seashore and others at the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, New Hampshire, where T-Group methodology was first theorized and developed. Thus, Mary Follett's work set the stage for a generation of effective, progressive changes in management philosophy, style and practice, revolutionizing and humanizing the American workplace, and allowing the fulfillment of Douglas McGregor's management vision--quantum leaps in productivity effected through the humanization of the workplace.