Organizational theory text and cases

Thompson's Typology

In the 1960's, James Thompson introduced a theory wherein both manufacturing and service technologies are included in one typology. He also believed that technologies were somehow dependent on their transformation process. Some have standardized or unstandardized processes in transforming their inputs to outputs. He was also sensitive to the materials that were in the transformation process and the output the system produced. Some inputs and outputs are standardized and some are unstandardized. Thompson's theory revolves around three types: long-linked, mediating, and intensive technology.

Long-Linked Technologies

Long-linked technologies can be categorized in Woodward's mass production or continuous processing categories. The most common application of long-linked technologies is assembly lines. It is a production process consisting of a fixed sequence of steps. Technologies under this type would transform standardized inputs into standardized outputs. In an assembly line, there are inputs entering at one end of a long line from which finished goods emerge at the end of the line. Long-linked technologies are often if not always associated with manufacturing organizations. Other examples of applications of long-linked technologies are steel and chemical plants.

Mediating Technologies

Mediating technologies often link partners in an exchange that helps them locate respective parties to transact with. They are a combination of unstandardized inputs and outputs together with standardized transformation process. Banking technology is classified under this category. Banks bring investors and borrowers together in an exchange or transaction. They help the people locate one another for easier and more convenient activity. They serve as the mediator between the interests of the parties. In this case, they provide for the mutual benefit of both parties, interest payments for investor and loans for borrowers.

Intensive Technologies

Intensive technologies require the specialized abilities of two or more experts in a particular field to transform unique inputs to customized outputs. An example of this would be hospitals. Hospital personnel must respond to unstandardized or unique needs of each patient while processing or evaluating them in different ways also. This type of technology focuses on the coordination of experts and their abilities and skills to produce a unique result. Intensive technologies make use of non-standard inputs to create non-standard outputs through non-standard transformation process.

Thompson did not put any category under standardized inputs and outputs with non-standard processes because an organization like this would be efficient. It would be producing standard inputs to outputs and doing them in different ways everytime it is processed.

Task Interdependence and Coordination Mechanism

In addition to his technology typology, he recognized that the work processes of a technology may be interrelated in a way that changes in one unit of the system affects the other parts as well - task interdependence. Thompson identified links between coordination mechanism and long-link, mediating, and intensive technologies. He proposed three general types of task interdependence: pooled, sequential, and reciprocal task interdependence.

Pooled task interdependence

Mediating technologies fall under pooled task interdependence. Offices perform their task independent from other offices therefore little direct contact is necessary and also little coordination. Banks mediate between borrowers and investors. This mediation can be done by numerous bank branches that roughly independently operate from one another. Another example of this would be different department of a university. Each unit is distinct and can function without the help of the other department. Rules and standard procedures are enough o ensure the organization's consistency.

Sequential task interdependence

Lonk-linked technologies are gathered under sequential task interdependence. The progress of earlier workers determines the progress of workers down the line. Take for example as assembly line. The person or people in charge at the third position would have to depend on the work of the first and second position. Coordination is greater in sequential task interdependence as compared to pooled task interdependence. It also involves a great amount of planning and scheduling tasks.

Reciprocal task interdependence

Units that use intensive technologies lead to reciprocal task interdependence. All units must work simultaneously in order to create an output. There is a need for exchange of information between workers during the performance of task. Intensive technology requires mutual adjustment and teamwork. Restaurants can be classified under reciprocal task interdependence. The kitchen staff has to coordinate with the waiters to provide meals to satisfy their customers. In reciprocal task interdependence, intensive technologies contain complementary work flows while in sequential task interdependence there is only one direction of work flow for long-linked technologies.


  • Jones, G. (2001). Organizational theory: text and cases. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

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