In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Structural Contingency Theory/Information Processing Theory

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • History
  • Technology Contingency
  • Uncertainty Contingency
  • Interdependence Contingency
  • Differentiation and Integration
  • Information Processing
  • Strategy Contingency
  • Size Contingency
  • Fit of Structure to Contingency
  • Other Fit-Performance Studies
  • Multinational Corporation Structures
  • Strategic Choice
  • Configurations
  • Equifinality
  • Methods
  • Strategic Contingencies Theory of Power in Organizations
  • Criticisms of Structural Contingencies Theory

Management Structural Contingency Theory/Information Processing Theory
Lex Donaldson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0062


Structural contingency theory holds that there is “no one best way,” meaning that no single structure or structural type is optimal for all organizations. Instead, the structure that is most effective is the structure that fits certain factors, called contingencies. Thus the effectiveness of a structure depends on the degree to which it fits the contingencies. Some of the contingencies of organizational structure are the degree of uncertainty of the environment of the organization, organizational strategy, and organizational size.

General Overviews

Sympathetic reviews of structural contingency theory and its researches are provided by Burton and Obel 2004 and Donaldson 2001. Donaldson 1995 is an edited collection of some of the classic articles on structural contingency theory. Pennings 1992 provides a general discussion based on the author’s experience researching structural contingency theory. More critical reviews are provided by Miner 1982, Pfeffer 1982, and Pfeffer 1997. Structural contingency theory has been applied to other, more specialized areas in management studies; for instance, Sousa and Voss 2008 provides a general discussion of contingency theory as applied in operations management.

  • Burton, Richard M., and Børge Obel. Strategic Organizational Diagnosis and Design: The Dynamics of Fit. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-9114-0

    A broad and eclectic synthesis of structural contingency theory.

  • Donaldson, Lex. The Contingency Theory of Organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2001.

    A comprehensive discussion and synthesis of structural contingency theory and empirical research, including discussion of methodology and rebuttals of criticisms of structural contingency theory research.

  • Donaldson, Lex, ed. Contingency Theory. History of Management Thought, 9. Aldershot, UK: Dartmouth, 1995.

    Contains twenty key structural contingency theory research articles published between 1967 and 1987.

  • Miner, John B. Theories of Organizational Structure and Process. Chicago: Dryden, 1982.

    A highly critical review of organizational structural research from a psychological viewpoint that highlights lack of rigor and empirical validation.

  • Pennings, Johannes M. “Structural Contingency Theory: A Reappraisal.” Research in Organizational Behavior 14 (1992): 267–309.

    A discussion that identifies a number of issues requiring resolution for the development of structural contingency theory such as dimensions versus typologies, statistical testing, and levels of analysis.

  • Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Organizations and Organization Theory. Boston: Pitman, 1982.

    A wide-ranging critical review from a sociological viewpoint.

  • Pfeffer, Jeffrey. New Directions for Organization Theory: Problems and Prospects. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    A more up-to-date discussion by Pfeffer.

  • Sousa, Rui, and Christopher A. Voss. “Contingency Research in Operations Management Practices.” Journal of Operations Management 26 (2008): 697–713.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jom.2008.06.001

    This article analyzes in detail contingency theory in its various aspects as applied in operations management (with comparisons to other organizational theories) and makes recommendations for fruitful future applications.

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