Thompson's Levels Model

Reconciling the Rational, Natural, and Open Systems Perspectives

James D. Thompson in his work Organizations in Action states that all three perspectives apply in differing amounts to different organizations, and suggests researchers should be more flexible in their approach. He borrows Parson's levels (technical, managerial, and institutional) and claims that the rational perspective is more suitable to the technical level, the natural to the managerial, and the open to the institutional level (Scott p. 99).

Thompson states that organizations "strive to be rational although they are natural and open systems" (Scott p. 99). Rational notions of effectiveness and efficiency presume a closed system. Organizations attempt to seal off their technical core from external uncertaintities as much as possible. At the institutional level the organization is open to the environment and must adapt to its changes. At the managerial level managers mediate between the open institutional level and closed technical level and need the flexibility of informal structures prevalent in the natural system perspective to ensure organizational survival.