Law of the Situation

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) argued that all spheres of administration, in business and government, could have common principles applied. They faced the same problems of control, power, participation and conflict. Managers were better at tackling these difficulties than administrators because business was more flexible with new ideas.

There were general questions to begin with, the most basic being:

She was a pioneer in using psychology. She analysed the fundamental motives of human relationships, especially the individual within the social group, which meant that organisation, leadership and power are human matters and she wanted to reconcile individuals and social groups. Management should understand group formation and how to bring them together into a community of aim and experience, so there is a group common purpose of all its individual members and their purposes.

She had four principles of co-ordination:

Co-ordination by direct contact

This promotes horizontal communication as being as important as vertical communication and people with responsibility must be in direct contact with employees regardless of their position in the organisation.
Co-ordination in the early stages

Everyone affected by decisions should be brought into the decision making loop while decisions are being formed and not just told afterwards. This improves motivation and morale.
Co-ordination as the reciprocal relating of all factors in a Situation

People bind themselves together when there is reciprocity. Everything needs relating to one another, and these human interrelationships are crucial.
Co-ordinating as a continuing process

An executive decision is only one part of a process because many people in an organisation contribute to the making of a decision. Knowledge is spread and combined knowledge and joint responsibility have effect. Authority and responsibility comes from the actual function to be performed, rather than hierarchical position and the notion of final or ultimate responsibility is an illusion.

Differences are a creative means to integration (not domination or even by compromise because differences allow an advance towards the understanding of the common objective. Objective differences and real facts had to be in the open. From such differences would emerge the law of the situation (compare with Habermas communicative rationality; compare with Likert in moving to System 4) which would display attitudes of groups and individuals and responses to orders to be given. People had to understand the objective requirements of the situation rather than the say so of particular managers. There is research by all departments and collaboration. In effect orders come from not individuals but a realisation from information to each person on what needs to be done.

From the differences, the research, and an understanding of the situation, comes an integrative unity where each individual accepts responsibility for a particular contribution, to the best of ability, according to the law of the situation visible to all.

Integrative unity is stronger than traditional methods of power, responsibility and leading from the top. Joint responsibility and multiple leadership are developed so that power with succeeds power over. This suits democratic society where co-operation is encouraged and success is in achieving it. A leader draws out the abilities and contributions of individual members in groups. There is a group power to be generated rather than a personal power of a leader.


Pugh, D. S., Hickson, D. J., Hinings, C. R. (eds.) (1971), Writers on Organizations, Second Edition, London: Penguin, 102-104.

Refers to:

Follett, M. P. (1920), The New State, Longman.

Follett, M. P. (1924), Creative Experience, Longman.

Follett, M. P.; Metcalf, H. C. and Urwick, L. F. (eds.) (1941), Dynamic Administration, Pitman, 1941.