Barnard's Cooperative System

Chester I. Barnard was a former president of New Jersey Bell Telephone who wrote The Functions of the Executive (1938), and was associated with the human relations group at Harvard (i.e. Mayo, Roethlisberger, and Henderson). His was influential because is was one of the first attempts at a comprehensive organizational theory.

"Barnard stressed that organizations are essentially cooperative systems, integrating the contributions of individual participants" Scott p. 62 He defined the organization as "that kind of cooperation among men that is conscious, deliberate, and purposeful". Organizations rely on the willingness of participants and secure it through a variety of inducements (material rewards, opportunities for distinction, prestige, personal power, etc.). However, these efforts must be directed toward a purpose, and "the inclucation of belief in the real existence of a common purpose is an essential executive function" (Barnard p. 87).

Goals are imposed from above but willingness comes from the bottom up. Authority only is realized when those below accept and comply with that authority. "Communication, authority, specialization, and purpose are all aspects comprehended in coordination" (Barnard p. 174). Thus an organization is a purposefully coordinated system of communications linking all participants (Scott p. 63).

While some of Barnard's views are rationally-based, he separates himself from the rational camp by his insistence on the non-material, informal, interpersonal, moral basis for cooperation. Material rewards are seen as "weak incentives" that require other psychological supports to fully secure willing compliance. Formal organizations create and require informal organizations.

"But the most critical ingredient to successful organization is the formation of a collective purpose that becomes morally binding on participants" (Scott p. 63). This is the function of the executive who creates the moral code for the other participants (highly critized by Perrow as moral imperialism). But he acknowledges that often the overriding purpose is abandoned if organizational survival is threatened.

Barnard acknowledges the environment more than others in the human relations school, though he doesn't explicitly define it or conceptualize it.