Henry Fayol: Gangplank and Criticism [Part 3]


The Gangplank refers to the need for ‘level jumping’ in a hierarchical organisation. Although Fayol places emphasis on formal organisation, he is alive to the dangers of conformity to hierarchy and formalism. ‘It is an error to depart needlessly from the line of authority, but it is even greater one to keep it when detrimental to the business’, asserts Fayol.

He illustrates the problem with reference to the figure given below. If ‘F’ follows the principle of proper channel of communication, he has to send his message or file to ‘P’ through ‘E’, ‘D’ and so on, covering nine levels. It is, however, possible for ‘F’ to use ‘gangplank’ and avoid going through ‘A’ and all the other intervening layers as intermediaries. Recourse to ‘gangplank’ is possible only when the immediate superiors (in the case, ‘E’ and ‘O’) authorize such a relationship. Whenever a disagreement develops between ‘F’ and ‘P’, they must turn the matter to their superiors. While suggesting ‘gangplank’, Fayol is rather cautions. He feels that it may be less relevant to Government agencies in which the lines of authority are less clear than in private organisations.



Fayol’s theory has been criticised on the following grounds :

  1. Too formal: Fayol’s theory is said to be very formal. However, in any scientific and analytical study facts and observations have to be presented in a formal manner.
  2. Vague: Some of the concepts have not been properly defined. For example, the principle of division of work does not tell how the task should be divided. Again, to say that an organisation needs coordination is merely to state the obvious. In the words of Herbert Simon, administrative theory suffers from superficiality, oversimplification and lack of realism.
  3. Inconsistency: Principles of administrative theory were based on personal experience and limited observations. There is too much generalisations and lack empirical evidence. They have not been verified under controlled scientific conditions. Some of them are contradictory. For example, the unity of command principle is incompatible with division of work. The theory does not provide guidance as to which principle should be given precedence over the other.
  4. Pro-management Bias: Administrative theory does not pay adequate attention to workers. Workers are treated as biological machines or inert instruments in the work process.
  5. Historical value: Fayol’s theory was relevant when organisations operated in a stable and predictable environment. It seems less appropriate in the turbulent environment of today. For example, present-day managers cannot depend entirely on formal authority and must use persuasion to get the work done. Similarly, the theory views organisations as power centres and do not recognise the role of a democratic form of organisation.
  6. He neglected the structural aspect and his treatment of the organistion was considered defective.
  7. Peter Drucker, observes that some of the worst mistakes of organisation-building have been committed by imposing a mechanistic model of an ‘ideal’ or ‘universal’ organisation on a living business.
  8. The empirical base used by Fayol for generating a full-fledged theory of management is too narrow.
  9. He proceeded too theorise functionalism on the basis of functions undertaken in a manufacturing company. It would be unrealistic to expect that the insights and derivations from the mining organisation would be equally applicable to the needs and challenges of other organisations.
  10. His model, functional structure rapidly becomes costly in terms of time and effort, and runs a high risk of misdirecting the energies of the organisation away from performance.
  11. His ideas have also been criticised by critics of the classical administrative theory for their value judgments involving ‘should’ or ‘ought’ statements, for lack of a sufficient experimental basis and for their internal contradictions. Elaborating their criticisms, Barnard and Simon argue that a managerial organisation cannot be explained purely in terms of a set of principles about formal organisation structure.
  12. Fayol have mostly ignored the social-psychological or emotional needs of the employees.

In Brief

Henry Fayol

Henri Fayol’s contribution to the theory of public administration is as follows:

  • Henri Fayol, a successful executive of a mining company in France, made significant contributions to the management concepts and is considered as the founder of “Management Process School”.
  • He considered management as a science which can be developed, studied and applied equally well to public and private affairs.
  • He emphasized the university of management process and made a distinction between management and public administration.
  • He identified five key elements of organisation viz., planning, organisation, command, coordination and control.
  • Fayol derived fourteen principles of administration which are capable of adaptation to various enterprises and settings. He emphasized the importance of training in administration.
  • Although Fayol places great emphasis on formal organisation, he is alive to the limitations of hierarchy and formalism. Therefore, he suggested Gangplank – “level jumping” – in a hierarchical organisation.
  • A comparison of contributions of Henri Fayol, a French manager and F.W. Taylor, an American engineer is useful to understand the complementarity of their contributions and the differences in their approach and focus. Taylor focused mainly on the management principles to be applied directly to the field of production and Fayol mainly focused on the development of general theory of administration to be applied at the top-management level.
  • Fayol’s theory of functionalism is criticised for its narrow focus, mechanical approach and neglect of complex factors affecting human behaviour in organisations.
  • Fayol’s framework of systematic analysis of administrative processes stimulated subsequent writers on administration and management. His principles of administration, in variant forms, are applied in the working of modern organisations

Also Read |Development Administration: Concept & Features

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