Theories of Mary Parker Follett Made Simple

Born on September 3rd 1868, Mary Parker Follett was the eldest child in her family. They lived in Quincy of Massachusetts. Before giving into alcoholism, her father worked at a shoe factory. He eventually became sober, but his new permanent job was not enough to feed the entire family, forcing them to go live with his father. In 1885, both passed away, but it did not have financial effect on Mary and her family. There was a good amount of property which helped them lead a good life as well as pay for her education.

She got into Cambridge University, England, but before she could graduate, she was called back to United States because of her mother’s illness. She finally received Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe, a part of Harvard University made mainly for women. Later she went onto finishing her postgraduate study in France.

Her first profession was in social work which helped her gain management experience. As a social worker, she tried to solve the political and financial problems related to establishment of evening centers for public schools situated in Boston. This allowed her to gain popularity nationwide. She also brought about innovation in other community centers of the region, making them an example for the nearest and farthest cities.

In 1925, a new career came into her life. She chose to become an industrial management lecturer. Psychology and political science were always of great interest to her, but her management experience combined with them brought about organizational theories no one could think of at the time. They are found in her three books: Speaker of the House of Representatives, The New State and Creative Experience. Her papers and lectures were later published in two books titled as Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett and Freedom and Coordination: Lecture in Business Organization. Now let’s take a look at some of those theories.

Management and the Manager

Undoubtedly, the business management education today is pretty much influenced by what she wrote in her books. In her view, management is ‘the art of getting things done through people’. But with that, she emphasizes the need to introduce scientific standard to business management. According to her, business management has two parts. The first includes technical knowledge which can be learned. The second one has to do with knowledge of how to interact with employees and all others connected to the business. Follett then states that despite the differences between the two, there is no way to separate them. Consequently, there should be a way to apply science to human relations connected to management. Another important thing required is to evaluate the job of the manager in a way that he is no more seen as different from his employees.

The steps to arrange business management education is her another contribution. To carry it out, she prescribes scientific method. The first step here is to research managing process constantly. Experiments should never be dropped. The conclusions then must be turned into knowledge to shape up the business management education.

4 Principles of the Organization

Another emphasis of Follett is coordination. She believes that the main task of every organization is to coordinate the labors of all employees to come up with one functional unit. She explains this by using a machine as an example. If all its parts are not assembled properly there is no way to make it work. But overall, an organization must have the following 4 principles:
  1. Coordination by direct contact among the people involved in fulfilling policies of the organization. 
  2. Coordination in the early stages of setting policies so they may be influenced and designed by those who will be fulfilling them.
  3. Coordination as the reciprocal relating of all the factors in a situation and that means the organization should consider all the things of its environment. 
  4. Coordination is a continuing process, hinting that all the above should always be part of an organization.


Her coordination principles are very much connected to her concept called law of the situation. Through it, she explains that authority is situational and not based on individual and job position. In other words, employees do their work to meet the demand of the situation and not to fulfill the instruction of their managers. This way it is the situation that creates the instruction. Both the managers and their employees should surrender to that.
Secondly, there is nothing called ultimate obligation and authority. They are merely a phantasm. The truth is that obligation is the total obligations of all working towards a specific goal in the organization. Meanwhile, since authority is situational, it should never be taken as personal.

Third, authority must be matched with the knowledge and experience required to perform a specific job. This must be true for both top officials and lower level employees.

Group Process

Above we have seen how Follett is always using the group to be her main focus. But why that is so? Follett has always been highly optimistic about its potential. In fact, she explains that the main reason why a group forms is because its members wish to create something. Also a group in theory is so logical and consistent that running it properly can make its members share each other’s thoughts and efforts which eventually help them become like-minded and cooperative.

How is that possible? According to her, the individuals and a society within which all of us are one group are not independent entities. Both affect each other. An individual learns and changes himself according to what he experiences within a society. Similarly, the society is dependent on what he gives to it from his new learned materials and changes. Thus, it’s a relationship of give and take which when shaped properly creates social evolution.

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