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William Marvin Bledsoe 

Bachelor of Science 

Eastern Kentucky State College, 1953 

A thesis submitted to the School of 
Government and Business Administration 
of The George Washington University in 
partial fulfillment of the requirements 
for the degree of Master of 
Business Administration 

April 30, 1966 

Thesis Approved by 
David S. Brown, Ph.D. 

Professor of Public Administration 

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In many organizations today there seems to be much emphasis on roles 
as opposed to people, and on relative position as opposed to contribution. 
Once an individual becomes affiliated with a large organization, the organi- 
zation tends to de-personalize him. The individual finds that in order to 
play the game successfully he must assume an organizational-role personality. 
Often, as a result, individuals who perhaps share many similar basic values 
find themselves pitted against each other in a role-playing situation in 
organizations, when logically they should be working together toward the same 

I view traditional line-and-staff theory and its effects in and on 
organizations and their structure as one example of this seemingly irrational 
role playing in today *s organizations. The purpose of this study is to 
analyze line and staff conflict as it relates to modern organization, to 
understand what it is and why it exists, and then to observe efforts made 
toward its resolution or amelioration. Finally, it is hoped, of course, that 
some measure of meaningful insight will accrue from the study which will be 
of value to managers. 

This study is based on a survey and analysis of the literature in the 
field. Books, articles and the results of studies appearing during the last 
two years were used as a point of departure. Substantiating and supporting 
references were then investigated. These were found in some cases to extend 
backwards through time seventy-five years or more, a period during which the 
advances in science and technology, and industrial growth and development, 
have been phenomenal. 



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Line and Staff: An Analysis 

Line and Staff: A Jungle of Concepts 



What the Line Says About the Staff 
What the Staff Says About the Line 
Why They Feel As They Do Toward Each Other 
How Serious Is It? 


In General 

Insure Understanding of Functions 
Define Responsibility and Establish Written Rules 
The Salesmanship Approach 
Other Approaches 

Traditional Approaches; A Summary Analysis 


A New Emphasis 

The Trend Away From Line and Staff 

Interdependence; A Challenge to Traditional Concepts 
Transitional Steps 

Changing Roles of the Staff Assistant 
Implications for the Future 
Summary Analysis 


^ Summary 









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The Term . — The origin of the term "line" as it applies to organiza- 
tions is not clear, and is perhaps unimportant. While commonly supposed that 
in the military it has reference to the battle line or those in the line of 
combat, this could not be authoritatively substantiated. The term has 
significance primarily in conjunction with the term "staff." Line and staff 
were first used in military organizations. The line had reference to the 
structure through which duties, authority, and responsibility were delegated. 
The concept is one of a well-defined flow of authority from the supreme 
commander downward to the lowest echelons and the complementary acceptance 
of responsibility upward through the same channels. Line and "chain of 
command" are S 3 rnon 3 rmous . ^ 

The Line Concept . — The line concept (as well as the span-of-control 
problem) is often introduced in the literature by reference to the appoint- 
ment by Moses of "rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties 
and rulers of tens."^ Line is descriptive of an authority relationship. It 
implies a superior and a subordinate. It is the scalar or hierarchical 
relationship in an organization through which direction and coordination are 

^See. U.S., Navy, Naval War College, Principles of Organization (6th 
ed.) November, 1963, pp. 1-16. 

^Exodus 18. 



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exercised.^ The line concept is one wherein the work to be accomplished by 
members of an organization Is divided — departmentalized — on some rational 
basis and then Is directed and coordinated through hierarchical echelons of 
superior-subordinate relationships. Authority of the superior is legiti- 
mated to the subordinate, rationally, through the superior's ability and 
knowledge .^ Victor A. Thompson points out that a conceptually pure line 
organization must of necessity be a simple one. He states that In earlier 
periods of primatlve technology "... organizations could depend more on 
the 'line of command.'" "The superior could tell others what to do 
because he could master the knowledge and techniques necessary to do so 

Staff assistance, as will be discussed below, was employed In an 
effort to keep the line abreast of knowledge and Increasingly complex 
techniques which grew rapidly with advances In technology. The Incorpora- 
tion of the staff specialist into the simple line organization, while 
undoubtedly occurring much earlier. Is evidenced In European military 
organizations In 1655.^ 

Line Functions and Line Executives . — With the emergence of staff 
specialists In organizations, came the need for distinguishing between line 
and staff and the first general use of either term. While it Is convenient 

^See James D. Mooney, Principles of Organization (New York: Harper 

& Brothers, 1947), pp. 5-15. 

^See Victor A. Thompson, Modern Organization (New York: Alfred A. 

Knopf, 1964), pp. 3-4. For a discussion of legitimization criteria, see 
Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization , trans. A. M. 
Henderson and Talcott Parsons, ed. Talcott Parsons (New York: Oxford 

Univ. Press, 1947), and Chester I. Barnard, Functions of the Executive 
(Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1951), esp. Ch. 12. 

SThompson, Ibid . . pp. 12-13. 

%ooney, op. clt .. p. 143. 




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to Identify line executives as those having authority, and staff as those 
not possessing authority. It Is neither useful nor accurate. Those In staff 
roles In organizations have been observed to exert strong Influence upon 
policy and declslon-maklng.^ Specialist functions such as that of quarter- 
master In an army began to be grouped or departmentalized In a subordinate 
relationship under the staff general adviser. Thus with the establishment 
of staff "departments" which performed functions formerly performed In other 
departments came a differentiation between line functions and staff func- 
tions. Two criteria gave rise to the term "staff executive." In the first 
place, the head of the staff department acted In an executive capacity In 
the staff department. Secondly, staff general advisers, after Influencing 
major line decisions, were often called upon to assist In Implementing them. 
While the Implementation was accomplished In the name of the line supervisor, 
the fact remains that staff assistants began to Implement line decisions, 
which In many cases were their own recommendations. In theory, then, staff 
executives have no line authority except In their own staff departments, 
and only line executives can give orders to line subordinates. 

What makes a line executive or a line function line Is the purpose 
or mission of the organization. If the ABC Company exists for the purpose 
of manufacturing ' and selling products at a profit, the line functions are 
manufacturing and selling; the line executives are the heads of those line 
departments and their superior and subordinate executives In the chain of 
command. In general, contanporary theory states that whatever Is not line 
In an organization Is staff. From company to company, however, even within 
an Industry, the designation of the line components Is often arbitrary and 

%ld .. p. 34. 


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is subject to wide variation.” For example, in the Dupont Company research 
and development is recognized as a line function whereas in most companies 
it is staff. Every company either explicitly or implicitly is in business 
to suirvlve. Dupont feels that the development of new products is tantamount 
to survival in the chemical Industry. 

Allen, in his study of line and staff, identifies line with ini- 
tiating and carrying through the basic activities of an organization, with 
achieving the primary objectives of the enterprise. "Every company is 
organized for a specific purpose . . . but whether it be production, sales, 
research, or finance, the line component is the one that has direct respon- 
sibility for achieving the objectives of the enterprise. "9 

A minimum of reflection will show that such definitions as are 
generally used are of little usefulness. If it is the verbs such as 
Initiating, carrying through, and achieving which distinguishes line, then 
the inference is that the staff neither initiates, carries through, nor 
achieves; if the emphasis is on the objects such as basic activities or 
primary objectives, then the inference is that the staff is working toward 
some objective other than the basic, primary objectives of the organization. 
If the manner in which an organization achieves its objectives is visualized 
as a pipeline,^® the definition of the line component Infers that some 
sections of the pipe are more necessary than others. 

®See Louis A. Allen, "The Line-Staff Relationship," Management 
Record (Sept., 1955), pp. 346-349. 

^Ibid .. p. 346. 

lOLeonard R. Sayles, Managerial Behavior; Administration in Complex 
Organization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. 22, states, "In any organi- 

zation in which there is a division of labor, there is a process by which 
material, ideas, people, or papers come in, have something done to them in 
one or many interlinked stages, and then pass out the door to a customer." 




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Perhaps the most meaningful terms In the definition are those which 

express the Idea of direct versus Indirect contribution. It Is much more 

useful to think of the line as directly initiating, carrying through, and 

achieving the basic, primary objectives of the organization; and to think of 

staff as Indirectly Initiating, carrying through and achleylng the basic, 

primary objectives of the organization. This Is especially true of the 

functional staff specialists. James D. Mooney observed: 

It may suggest that the structure of organization Is like a double-track 
railroad, consisting of line and staff as two coordinated functions. 

There could be no more erroneous conception. The structure of organiza- 
tion Is single track only . . . any duty In the organization that cannot 
be Identified as an actual link In the scalar process Is an avixlllary 
function, adhering to the line like the sidings along the main track. 

This means that every staff function must adhere to the line In some 
dependent relation. ^1 

Notwithstanding this often-cited statement. It Is important to 
understanding of either line or staff (1) that line departments perform 
direct functions only to the extent that staff departments have been created 
to perform more Indirect functions, and (2) that the t3rplcal organization of 
today cannot exist without staff specialists. The dependency between line 
and staff whether viewed as authority relationships, executives, or functions 
is two-way. In a two-dimensional view, there are at least three interde- 
pendent sides to an organization. The triangle consists of functional 
specialization, advice and counsel, and authoritative direction. The length 
of the sides varies with the objectives sought and the manner In which they 
are pursued. 

Narrowly defined then, line refers to a superior-subordinate rela- 
tionship. Departing from this, line functions, line executives, line 
departments, and line activities (and their staff counterparts) are of vague 

^^Mooney, op. clt .. pp. 33-35. 

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and ambiguous meaning. 


The Term — The word "staff" Is often used to describe a long stick 
carried In the hand used for support In walking. It Infers support, some- 
thing on which to lean. Its use In organization was adopted to connote 


counsel and advice.'^ 

The Staff Concept . — Advice and dounsel are as old as man himself, 
as old as organization. Mooney cites as early recorded evidence of the 
concept the "homerlc chiefs, on whom the King depended for counsel, and the 
wltenagemot . literally council of wise men, of the Anglo-Saxon kings." 

This Is somewhat Irrelevant; people have been advising and counselling other 
people throughout the ages. What Is significant Insofar as the study of 
organizations Is concerned Is the Integration, on a full-time basis, of 
people In organizations whose assigned duties Included advising and counsel- 
ling. Taylor In 1911 advocated the partial use of the military plan of 
line-staff as a method of simplifying shop work. He proposed to label pro- 
duction planning as a staff function. Taylor's emphasis was on functions, 
not on advice and counsel, and It Is perhaps unfortunate that from the 
writings of Taylor, and of Harrington Emerson who expanded on Taylor's 
theories, came the label "line aiul staff" as a type of organization struc- 
ture. "Line and functional" would have been more In accord with Taylor's 

As the labor force or personnel base of an organization expands, 

^ ^Ibld .. p. 38. 

^ ^Ibld . 

W. Taylor, Shop Management (New York: Harper and Bros., 1911), 

pp. 1337-1480. 

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span-of -control-problems arise. More supervisory and executive positions 
are created and tasks of the labor force are more minutely divided on the 
basis of homogeneity. The job descriptions of supervisory personnel become 
functionally less similar. In order to move from one position to another, 
local specialized training becomes necessary. The long-range effect is 
specific college-level preparation and a career in a specialized field. 
Having a profound overall effect on this growth pattern, the impact of 
advances in science and technology tends to mitigate against micro-division 
of tasks and Imposes requirements for relatively more sophisticated prepara- 
tion for duties at all levels. Functionally, the effect is the creation of 

Specialists are those people who can do things which others cannot 
do, or caimot do as well. They have a partial monopoly of ability to do 
certain things, due to special preparation and experience. A specialist is 
what might be termed a professional. Specialization applies to a person, 
not to tasks. Division of labor or tasks is antithetic to specialization 
in the sense that it Involves simplifying tasks to the point where anyone 
with a minimum of instruction can perform them. Thus, work on an assembly 
line represents division of labor whereas the production engineer is repre- 
sentative of specialization.^^ 

Those specialists whose efforts contribute indirectly toward the 
goals of the organization are labelled functional staff specialists. (Those 
specialists whose efforts contribute directly, or more directly, toward the 
accomplishment of organizational goals are usually called line executives. 
Would it not be more appropriate to call them functional line specialists?) 

Hierarchically, the effects of a broadening base and advancing 

l%ee Thompson, op. cit., pp. 25-26. 


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technology are a lengthening of the hierarchy which hampers communication, 
and a threat of losing control due to Insufficient Information upon which 
to base meaningful decisions. Lack of knowledge and accurate Information 
generates poor decisions; poor decisions generate orders and Instructions 
which are not compatible with the environment in which they are received; 
poor orders and Instructions, fortunately, are less likely to be carried 
out. To use Barnard's terms, they fall less and less within the "zone of 
Indifference" of the recipient. Authority fails to be legitimated.^^ 

Victor A. Thompson reasoned: 

. . . In an earlier period organizations could depend much more on the 
"line of command." The superior could tell others what to do because 
he could master the knowledge and techniques to do so Intelligently. 

As science and technology developed, the superior lost . . . the 
ability to command in one field after another, but he retained the 
right as a part of his role.^' 

To alleviate the increasing depth in the hierarchy and to supply 
the needed knowledge and techniques to the "line of command" the general 
staff officer or staff assistant, whose role is to advise, counsel and 
assist a superior, came to be employed. 

Advice and counsel rendered by staff assistants tend to follow 
hierarchical lines; advice and counsel rendered by functional staff special- 
ists tend to cut across hierarchical lines. 

The Staff Relationship .— As in the case of the line, staff should 
not be thought of as being descriptive of functions, departments, or people, 
but rather as descriptive of relationships. Thus it is said that when one 
position exists primarily to provide advice and service to another, it is in 

^^See Baimard, op. cit .. p. 167. 


Thompson, op. cit .. pp. 12-13. Emphasis in the original. 


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a staff relationship.^^ Koontz and O'Donnell stated that all line relation- 
ships are superior-subordinate relationships, and that when "... acting In 
a staff relationships one must realize that his job Is to advise and not 
command . . . It Is again emphasized that the meaningful perspective 

appears to be one of direct and Indirect contribution to the objectives of 
the organization. Rather than saying that functional staff specialists 
exist primarily to serve line positions, would It not be more useful and 
perhaps less misleading to say rather that staff specialists perform 
Indirect functions which make possible or effective the direct effort of 
those In line positions? Is It meaningful to think In terms of the "have's" 
and the "have not's" with respect to command authority? Certainly a line 
sales manager has little If any command authority outside of his own depart- 
ment; neither does the staff purchasing agent; but both exercise authority 
within their own jurisdictions and both exercise Influence to some degree 
throughout the entire organization through means other than command 
authority. Also the staff Is normally said to perform auxiliary functions 
whereas the line performs primary functions with respect to the basic 
objectives of the organization. Again, the terms direct and Indirect 
express more accurately what Is being described. 

A useful perspective regarding the contribution of staff In an 
organization having been attempted, attention Is now directed to the types 
of staff, or staff labels. 

Types of Staff . — The two general categories of staff contributions 
have already been discussed. The hierarchical staff assistants or general 

Allen, loc. clt . 

^^Harold Koontz and Cyril O'Donnell, Principles of Management 
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955), p. 141. 


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staff (at high levels) which advise and counsel line managers are generally 
labelled personal staff . Functional staff specialists are called specialized 
staff . 

Personal staff , as the adjective indicates » assist a particular 
person, an Incumbent of an executive position. Personal staff may consist 
of line assistants , staff assistants , and general staff assistants . The 
line assistant has at least some duties directly In the chain of command 
and has some authority over designated line departments. He may also assume 
the duties of his chief In his chief's absence. 

The second category, staff assistant. Is frequently known as an 
"assistant to." He has no line authority and "may be anything from a 
glorified secretary to a vice president," to use Allen's description. To 
the extent that he Is the former, he Is better described as a functional 
specialist; to the extent that he Is the latter, he Is better described as 
a general staff assistant. Other terms used to describe staff assistants 
are "administrative assistant," "special assistant to," and "executive 

It Is the third category, general staff assistants, or staff 
general executives, which best exemplifies the staff concept In the direc- 
tion and control hierarchy. A general staff assistant or staff general 
executive serves primarily as an advisor to top management In specified 

Staff specialists also advise and counsel. This Is perhaps the 
basis for classifying them as staff. Actually their major contribution Is 
the management and execution of specialized Indirect functions In the 

^®See Allen, loc. clt .. for a more detailed discussion of the 
material wlilch Is summarized here on types of staff. 


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functional framework of the organization. The personnel officer as a staff 
specialist performs functionally In testing, interviewing and hiring of 
personnel, in keeping employee records, and in a variety of other functions 
in his area of specialty. He also advises all other (both line and staff) 
executives and supervisors regarding personnel problems in their areas. The 
specialized staff provides a reservoir of special knowledge, skills, tech- 
niques, and experience which the entire organization can use. 

From the point of view of specialization, advice and counsel 
furnished by staff specialists is a function of the degree of "indirectness" 
of their specialized contribution to the attainment of basic objectives of 
the organization. That is, since "line specialists" are functionally con- 
tributing more directly to the accomplishment of the basic objectives, it 
follows that advice and counsel would flow from the indirect toward the 
direct functional areas for reflection in the final product or accomplished 
objective. The point to be borne in mind is that in the absence of 
specialization the "operating" executive would necessarily devote a great 
deal of his efforts to the indirect functions. 

Specialization along with the scientific and technological advances 
has made possible (and mandatory) in each of these direct and indirect 
functional areas the development of a highly sophisticated art and support- 
ing techniques. The result of these phenomena combined with effective 
direction has been in industry an efficiency and output beyond wild imagina- 
tions of a century ago. The functional specialization concept is demon- 
strated even within the direct contribution (line) areas by the following 
meaningful observation: 

. . . Tooling has prepared the processing sheets, establishing what 
is to be done, and how it is to be done; and Production has said 
when it is to be done and where it is to be done. In the factory 





they merely do it. 

Line and Staff, An Analysis 

As the specialization trend continues, and the functions Vlcek 
mentions above become "professions," where will the dividing line between 
line and staff functional specialists be drawn? Is not tooling less direct 
than the "doing" in the factory? Yet today It is accepted as a matter of 
course that the Manufacturing Division or the Production Department Is line 
and that the Accounting Department or the Personnel Department Is staff. 

The meaning of the two terms cries out for critical reflection. The dis- 
tinction In terms of specialization Is arbitrary and perhaps not as useful 
as might have been Imagined In attempting to theorize, rationalize, construct 
a model, of the process or system through which an organization accomplishes 
Its objectives. 

A thought-provoking perspective Is one in which "ninety-nine and 
forty-four one-hundredths per cent" of the so-called functional effort in 
an organization Is that which provides vital service, advice, and counsel 
to those who "merely do It" — "It" being the final, direct (and highly 
directed) effort through which the objectives are realized. Even with this 
perspective, the accurate dividing line between the Indirect and the "it" 
defies location. This Is suggestive of an Integrated process — a system. 

The above analysis supports the hypothesis that line is descriptive 
of an authority relationship, of a scalar or hierarchical phenomenon. It 
also suggests that as specialization Increases, the line of direction from 
the "supreme authority" to the "mere doers" ceases to exist as a direct line. 

^^Adolph Vlcek, Jr., "Minimizing Line-Staff Friction at Martin- 
Bait imore," Line-Staff Relationships In Production. AMA Special Report 
No. 18 (New York: American Management Association, 1957), p. 52. 

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From the chief executive, the longest and greatest number of line relation- 
ships extend hierarchically through the specialists performing comparatively 
indirect functions, who constitute the bulk of the organization. If the 
task of line authority is coordination of specialist contributions to keep 
them proportionate to the overall task of achieving the basic objectives, 
is not the position of the chief executive, in terras of the total organiza- 
tion, the only line position in the organization? All of his relationships 
are superior-subordinate — authoritative — in nature. This cannot be said of 
any other member of the organization, except perhaps of the "mere doers." 
Advice and counsel flow from the staff assistants to the chief executive 
position, and from the most indirect functional components (by way of a 
variety of channels) through successive stages of less indirect functional 
components for reflection in the accomplishment of the objectives. It is 
hardly meaningful to say that the "mere doers" act only upon signal through 
a direct chain of command because by the time the task of the "mere doers" 
reaches them, it has already defined by the specialists. If it is insisted 
that the authority relationship between the "mere doers" and the chief 
executive constitutes a "line," then it must be conceded that the nature of 
the communications in the relationship are substantially pre-determlned by 
the staff assistants and the specialists. 

Line and Staff: A Jungle of Concepts 

Notwithstanding the analysis presented above, the subject of line- 
staff conflict must be approached with the following perspective — actually 
a variety of conceptions and misconceptions — of line and staff which 
permeates contemporary management and organization theory. The statements 
which follow were drawn from a variety of management texts and other 
literature reflecting traditional concepts of line and staff. All sources 



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are contained In the bibliography, but Individual citation Is neither 
practical nor would It serve a useful purpose since most of the Ideas 
expressed are familiar ones. 

- Two or three primary departments, such as manufacturing and sales 
are line; all other departments are staff. 

- Line represents command authority; staff must influence the line 
or sell their recommendations to the line. 

- Staff recommends; line decides. 

- Staff exists to serve line. 

- Staff functions are auxiliary; line functions are primary. 

- Line effects; staff affects. 

- Line represents the authority of man; staff, the authority of 

Ideas . 

- Staff men are specialists; line men are generalists. 

- Line assistants have authority as to objectives; staff assistants 

do not. 

<- Line managers are "In the drivers seat" and there they will stay; 
staff managers adhere to the line In some dependent relation. 

- Staff Is dependent on line more than line depends on staff. 

- Staff should be on tap, not on top. 

- Staff thinks; line thinks and acts. 

- The staff Is engaged in those activities that assist the line In 
the attainment of Its (the line's) objectives. (The line is the organiza- 
tion; the staff are Independent consultants retained on a full-time basis.) 

- Line contributions are measured by results; staff contributions 
are measured by other means. 

- Line Is responsible for results; staff Is not. 


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- Line accotapllshes the objectives of the organization; staff 
assists the line. 

- A line executive executes “with authority"; staff executives 
execute "by direction." 

- A line executive Installs a work flow system In a shop; a staff 
executive Installs an accounting system for the president or by the direc- 
tion of the president. 

- A staff executive has no authority outside his own specialty; a 
line executive . . . (7) .... 

- Staff tends to take a theoretical and "Ivory tower" approach; 
line must deal In reality. 

- Staff work deals with broad company programs; the line executives 
say, "Will It work In my shop?" 

- Staff grows disproportionately to line. (Staff effort Is non- 

- The staff man must listen to the line man; the line man listens 
to the staff If he wants to and at his own risk, or he may be required to 
listen but then make his own decision. 

- Staff Is responsible for making good recommendations; line Is 
responsible for deciding whether to use them. 

- Line functions are more Important than staff functions. 

- Line executives should be promoted to top management positions; 
staff executives should be promoted to top staff positions. (There Is a 
dual ladder.) 

- The line executive works primarily with people; the staff 
executive works primarily with Ideas. 

- The line executive seeks a^ "satisficing" solution; the staff man 



seeks the "right" solution. 

~ Functional line executives derive satisfaction from their 
accomplishments; functional staff executives derive satisfaction from the 
practice of their professions. 


The term "line" is used to describe a superior-subordinate rela- 
tionship and depicts a chain of command or a line of authority. The term 
"staff" means assistance and support and is used to describe the relation- 
ship between one who advises eind counsels and the one to whom the advice 
or counsel is given. Line relationships involve a delegation of authority 
to make decisions with respect to the accomplishment of basic objectives, 
whereas in staff relationships such authority is not delegated. 

In small, simple organizations there is no fotmal distinction 
between decision-making roles and advice-and-counsel roles, the latter 
being in the form of recommendations or opinions concerning matters for 
which decision-making authority is not delegated. With the development of 
specialization and increased division of responsibility for functions, the 
label "functional staff specialist" came into use. Functions such as 
manufacturing and sales which could be identified closely with the realiza- 
tion of basic objectives were specified as line functions; all other 
specialist functions were called staff functions. Executives in charge of 
the various functions have also been labelled as either line or staff 
executives even though all executives have some line relationships and some 
staff relationships within the organization. 

22see Edward C. Schleh, "Make Your Staff Pay Its Way," Harvard 
Business Review . March-April, 1957, pp. 115-122, for an interesting pursuit 
of this idea. 


Notwithstanding the forces — science, technology and the Increasing 
size of Industrial organizations — which brought about specialization, and 
the fact that specialization became vital to the survival of a competitive 
organization, specialists (staff specialists) and their functions have come 
to be regarded as "less Important" than line functions. This Is perhaps 
due to the fact that staff specialist activities contribute somewhat In- 
directly to the accomplishment of objectives and are therefore thought of as 
auxiliary, support, or service functions. Since executives In charge of 
the more direct functions are clothed with a measure of authority as to 
organizational objectives and staff specialists are not, the latter are In 
a position of dependency on the line for utilization of the contributions 
of specialist functions, notwithstanding their vital necessity In the 
accomplishment of objectives. Thus, to a certain extent the formal 
delegation of "line" authority to "line" functions Is S3mthetlc and Is more 
of a convention than an effective control device. 

The staff concept of advice and counsel has better expression In 
the staff assistant positions than In the functional specialist positions. 
Both types of staff, however, do exercise strong Influence and considerable 
Informal authority which cuts across hierarchical lines of formal authority 
In the organization. 

Two unuseful generalizations have developed In llne-and-staff 
theory: line Is more Important than staff, and staff people do not make 

decisions. Neither Is wholly true; both are partially false. 

In the traditional monocratlc organization structure, every Individ- 
ual has one line superior. The hierarchical position of all personnel 
designated "line" Is clciar, both In line departments and In the organization 
as a whole. The hierarchical position (or level) of staff personnel Is clear 

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within staff departments, but not In the organization as a whole or with 
respect to line personnel. What Is missing Is a clear channel through 
which Indirect contributions to objectives flow through successive stages 
of more direct contributions for reflection, finally. In the accomplished 
objective. The word "and" In line and staff suggests the absence of such 
a single channel through which contributions flow. 




Conflict between line and staff has occurred almost from the 
beginning and In many separate organizations. The description of line’s 
complaints against staff and staff's complaints against line have become 
almost standard In management and organization literature. 

What the Line Says About the Staff 
Line executives think staff In general (1) seeks to usurp line 
authority, (2) does not give sound advice, (3) tends to steal credit from 
the line, and (4) has at parochial view. Line managers feel a keen sense 
of responsibility for accomplishment of the organization's basic objectives. 
While they may recognize the necessity of the staff, they resent what the 
staff does, or what they think It Is trying to do, because they feel that 
by the use of staff service and especially staff advice, they have acqui- 
esced to the staff and have forfeited a part of their own authority. 

Specific complaints made take various forms. The following are t 3 rplcal and 
are drawn primarily from articles and results of studies appearing In the 
professional journals since 1950.^^ 

23Mooney, op. clt .. p. 38, points out that the senate of ancient 
Rome "which under the kings and the consuls of the early Republic had been 
purely advisory . . . gradually usurped line powers until, in one period 
of Roman History, It exercised the highest authority In the state." 

^^Major sources are Allen, op. clt .. Maynard N. Toussalnt, "Line- 
Staff Conflict: Its Causes and Cure," Personnel . May, June, 1962, pp. 8-20, 

and Melville Dalton, "Conflicts Between Staff and Line Managerial Officers," 
American Sociological Review. June, 1950. 




- "They said the new personnel director would help me with my 
problems, but now he's trying to run my shop." 

- "Hire a staff man to do the purchasing and the next thing you 
know, he's a top management adviser, a market evaluator, an economist; 
purchasing is incidental." 

- "Procedures, procedures; what we need is production!" ^ 

- A staff specialist is a technician, a professional technician 
perhaps, but a technician nevertheless. (He is not a manager.) 

- The counsel and advice staff offers is not always fully considered, 
well-balanced, and soundly tested. 

- Staff is "academic" or "ivory tower." It lacks a baptism in the 
exigencies of the "real world." 

- Staff tends toward sub-optimization, rendering their recommenda- 
tions inconsistent with the basic objectives of the organization. 

- Staff specialists are "nice people with a lot of education who go 
home and sleep at night." "This is understandable, however, since they do 
not make decisions." 

- Staff are people who never had to "meet a payroll" or "get the 
goods out of the door." 

- Staff people talk a professional jargon no one understands, except 
other staff people. 

- Staff experts are expert in perlpherial areas, but line people are 
experts in the things that count. 

- "Staff are a bunch of well-dressed young bucks who are more inter- 
ested in climbing the social and promotion ladder than in getting the job 
done. They think a clean shirt, shined shoes, and a fresh haircut are what 
makes one an executive." 

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- "What good Is a well-written memorandum if the writer doesn’t 
know what he is talking about?" 

- "Staff could do with a little machinery grease under their finger- 

- The staff man Is more Interested In his professional society 
than he Is In the company. 

- Often staff specialists are simply unnecessary Impediments in the 
otherwise simple and efficient administration of production functions. 

- "I never see the staff people except when they’re trying to sell 
me something. When I have a problem, they’re too busy working on their own 
programs . " 

- Staff men owe a certain deference to line men because staff efforts 
do not contribute directly to profits, whereas line contributions do. 

- Staff Is sterile; line Is verlle. 

- Expert is a dirty word. 

- Staff are the "status seekers." 

- Staff are the "organization men." Conformity Is their motto. 

- If the results are successful, staff takes the credit. If not, 
staff shifts the blame to the line. 

- "If line doesn’t adopt staff’s recommendations, staff will force 
them on line through a common superior or by dealing direct with the line 
man’s subordinates." 

- "The staff tells us we have problems which we don't think we 
have .... It usually turns out that staff Is just trying to justify 
another ’big package’ staff program." 

What the Staff Says About the Line 

Whereas line feels that staff tactics take the offensive, staff sees 



line generally engaged In defensive maneuvers. Some of staff's comments 
about the line reflect a sensitivity to line criticism, and a degree of 
resignation to dependency on the line. By and large, however, staff takes 
the offensive. Staff men seem to feel that their contributions are not as 
effective In their ultimate utilization as they are valuable In and of 
themselves. The following are typical: 

- Line managers attach too much Importance to their own narrow 
operation, to the detriment of the organization as a whole. 

- Line only comes to staff for assistance as a last resort. Staff 
seldom gets In on the problem until It Is a real "bag of worms." If staff 
has a contribution to make In a program, staff should be consulted during 
the planning stage. 

- Line resists new Ideas. "They preach 'wait and see' while we're 
wasting thousands of dollars a day . . . . We'd do better with a little 
gumption and less caution." 

- A line manager Is too Interested In just keeping his operational 
machinery working. If It were not for staff, line would seldom Improve his 
own operation. 

- Line loses sight of Important staff contributions In Its over- 
concern with Its own authority and Independence. 

- Staff Is given a job to do but Is not given enough authority to 
do the job. Staff managers feel that If they have the best answer to a 
problem, they should be able to enforce the solution. To their way of 
thinking, knowledge Is authority, and there Is not much point In throwing 
organizational barriers between the man who knows and the job that has to 
be done. 

- Line officers have a "provincial," parochial point of view. They 

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concentrate only on their own shops and expect an Adam Smith type of guiding 
hand to cause everything to turn out right. 

- Staff resents being thought of as sterile. Staff claims at least 
equal verility with the line. 

- Staff sometimes thinks line people are too self-centered and 
immature y having an authority- Independence syndrome, and that therefore the 
line must be dealt with tactfully, patiently and understandlngly. 

- Staff feels that if the line is calling the shots and reserves 

the right to make all decisions in the light of information which line 

chooses not to divulge to staff, then sub-optimization is the only path 
,, 25 

open to staff. 

- Staff feels that since line does not consider staff as members of 

the first team, staff must maintain a detached perspective. "If my contri- 

butions are not well received here, I can always move elsewhere; it is my 
profession that counts." 

- Since so much of staff’s effective contribution depends upon 
acceptance by the line, staff should not attempt a program that does not 
promise overwhelming, say flve-to-one, returns. Staff feels that if it had 
implementation authority, many smaller-retum improvements could be made. 

In one study staff men in the Federal government were asked if they 
would rather be associated with a line activity. The majority replied in 
the affirmative. Some of the reasons given were desires to: 

^^Charles G. Dawes, first director of the U. S. Bureau of the Budget 
said, "Much as we love the President, if Congress, in its omnipotence over 
appropriations and in accordance with its authority over policy, passed a 
law that garbage should be put on the White House steps, it would be our 
regrettable duty, as a bureau, in an impartial, non-political and non- 
partisan way to advise the Executive and the Congress as to how the largest 
amount of garbage could be spread in the most expeditious and economical 
manner." The First Year of the Budget of the United States (New York: 

Harper and Bros., 1923), p. 178. 



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- be more closely associated with the agency's end product; 

- be In the chain of command; 

- avoid existing ceilings on advancement; and to 

- be In areas where one's own contribution could be more readily 

Why They Feel As They Do About Each Other 
Hierarchical and Specialist Roles . — While there are almost as many 
theories on the causes of the line-staff "square-off" as there are authors, 
a major one Is that conflict In organization arises from growing Inconsisten- 
cies between specialist and hierarchical roles, and that such conflict has 


generated mechanisms of role defense. 

A major cause of this phenomena Is the evolutlonairy process by which 

specialization has been Incorporated Into the traditional hierarchical, 

"llne-of-command" structure. The growing Imbalance between the rights of 

authority positions (hierarchical roles), on the one hand, and the abilities 

and skills needed In the modern technological age (specialist roles), on 

the other, generates tensions and Insecurities In the authority system. 

Attempts to reduce such Insecurity often result In behavior patterns which 

are dysfunctional from an organizational point of view although functional 


enough from the point of view of the Insecure Individual. 

Studies In human behavior among groups show that In any organized 
group, behavior Is oriented both toward a common purpose and toward the 
attainment of personal goals. Group behavior accommodates both. Problem 

^^See David S. Brown, "The Staff Man Looks In the Mirror," Public 
Administration Review . June, 1963, p. 73. 

^^See Thompson, op. clt. . esp. Chap. 5. 

^^See Thompson, Ibid . , pp. 23-24. 


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solving in modem organizations is a group activity (a group of specialists) . 
In matters involving personal goals, however, exogenous interference from the 
hierarchy tends to disrupt group behavior patterns. Since personal goal 
attainment tends to depend on recognition of the individual by the hierarchy, 
group behavior in problem solving is also disrupted. It is not only an 
opinion or an idea that wins in the group, but also a man wins recognition 
from the hierarchy. This situation is inherently competitive rather than 
cooperative. Intra-group competition attacks group solidarity and, conse- 
quently, the ability of the group to employ specialization in the pursuit of 

a goal . 

The ability of an organization to satisfy the personal needs and 
motives of its participants may be compromised by the definitions of hier- 
archical roles. Job satisfaction depends on such things as the degree of 
skill involved, the variety of activities, the degree of autonomy, the 
consistency of the job with the individual's self image, and the predicta- 
bility of work relations. These elements of job satisfactions may come into 
conflict with hierarchical rights to assign activities and to supervise them. 
The right of arbitrary command may conflict with cultural norms of independ- 
ence, and the right to unusual deference, with norms of equality and dignity. 
Thus, the self -images’ of subordinates are endangered. Thompson states further 

The most serious Impact of the hierarchical system upon the achievement 
of personal goals within organizations results from its appropriation 
of the definition of success in our culture .... To be socially defined 
as "successful" in our culture, one must proceed up some hierarchy. To 
have public recognition and esteem, hence self-esteem, one must succeed 
hierarchically. This situation is painful for the specialist. Even if he 
is the kind of a person who can satisfy his dominance needs by mastering 


^See Victor A. Thompson, "Hierarchy, Specialization, and Organize- 
tional Conflict," Administrative Science Quarterly . March, 1961, pp. 498-503. 




a skill rather than people, he will be denied ’’success" unless he gives 
up his specialty and enters hierarchical competition, 

To provide hierarchical opportunities, organizations are departmentalized into 
specialist hierarchies within the organization. Compounding the frustration, 
however, is the somewhat arbitrary labelling of a few specialist hierarchies 
as line and others as staff. A mark of moderate success in our society is 
advancement upward through a staff hierarchy wherein only a portion of profes- 
sional skill and competence is sacrificed. But consider the dilemma of a 
surgeon who aspires to hierarchical advancement. There are some specialties 
which of themselves are considered socially successful, but to be "really" 
successful in our society, one must be "on top, not on tap." This theory 
requires complete abandonment of a specialty within an organization. 

The reality, as opposed to the theory, is that in organizations the 
specialist does acquire a legitimacy of authority throughout the organization; 
an authority which invades the domain of hierarchical authority. In this 
way there arises a growing discrepancy between expected authority and actual 
authority which lies at the heart of the line-staff conflict. Mechanisms of 
hierarchical protection against this threat of specialization are many, but 
it is illustrative to call attention to the devices of derogating staff 
importance ("line is more important than staff") and of attempting to suppress 
recognition of the unpalatable features of the relation by the use of fictions 
("staff only advises; it does not command") . 

Authority of specialists is not a product of the 1960’s. It is not 

^ ^Ibld . , p. 508. 

^^See Thompson, Ibid . . p. 509. 


unlike Taylor's functional authority and Follett's authority of position . 

"If then, authority Is derived from function," — and she concluded that It Is — 
"It has little to do with the hierarchy of position as such .... Authority 

should go with knowledge and experience; that Is where obedience Is due, no 


matter whether It Is up or down the line .... " 

Much of the material In this section has been drawn from the writings 
of Victor A. Thompson, as cited. Thompson's thesis Is that the "... most 
symptomatic characteristic of modern bureaucracy Is the growing Imbalance 
between ability and authority. His summary of the bases of Intraorganlza- 
tlonal conflict Is concise and conducive to Insight, and Is therefore presented 
as an Appendix to this paper. 

Conclusions of two other authors tend In the same general direction: 

The role of the staff specialist continues to Increase In importance and 
In scope In direct proportion to the growth In size and complexity of 
the business organization. The critical need to make the most effective 
use of their abilities has caused management to place Increasing authority 
and responsibility In the hands of Its specialists. Thus has arisen. In 
the gulf between line and staff, the executive with functional authority, 
neither wholly "fish nor foul," but with characteristics of both."^^ 

Staff Specialist as Opposed to Staff Assistant . — It Is meaningful to 

note that most of the attitudes which generate dysfunction are those which pit 

the staff specialist against the line specialist or against the line hierarchy. 

There seems to be much less friction In connection with "personal staff" or 

staff assistant positions. However, this group of staff positions Is Involved 

^^See F. W. Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: 
Harper and Bros., 1911), pp. 36-38, and Mary Parker Follett, "The Illusion of 
Final Authority," Advanced Management Journal (September, 1963), a paper 
presented at a meeting of the Taylor Society In New York, December 10, 1926. 

^^Follett, Ibid . 

^^Thompson, Modern Organizations, op. clt .. p. 6. 

K. Bailey and Allan H. Savage, "How 'Pure' Should the Staff Role 
Be?," Personnel Administration . September-October , 1965, p. 38. 

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in the friction in two primary ways. 

In the first place, there is usually a direct working relationship 

' between general staff assistants and staff specialists. It is common for the 


general staff assistant to "wear a second hat" as chief of a specialist hier- 
archy. For example, a Vice president for.'research and development advises the 

'I chief executive regarding the product mix and related matters, but at the 

I same time he is the line chief of a vast research and development organization 


I in the company. Even if the company is "decentralized" and each, say, geo- 

' graphic division has a research and development department, there exists 

either formally or Informally a direct line of communications between the 
field components and the staff vice president. The line head of a field 
division is aware of his lack of control over his research and development 
subordinate. He knows that failure to adopt his staff assistant's recommenda- 
tion may generate a line directive from his own superior due to staff recourse 


1 upward through the specialist hierarchy.^® The line organization may be 



decentralized, but the staff organization tends to remain centralized. 

Secondly, even though general staff assistants are theoretically not 
in the "line of command" and have no authority, the theory does not square 
with the facts. Both specialists and lower-level line managers know that the 
logical way to "sell the boss" is through the boss's advisers, so in a real 
sense corporate staff officers wield real hierarchical authority. While they 
cannot issue directives in their own name, this is merely a convention and 
has little or no significance in the actual functioning of the organization. 

! Thus line managers in the organization who have been told that they have 

authority and that staff executives do not with respect to the organization's 
basic objectives, find themselves paying homage and giving deference to staff 

^^See Sayles, op. cit .. pp. 86-90. 

4 % 


personnel. In actual practice, general staff assistants lengthen the chain 
of coinmand at least one level. Since their authority is functional in nature, 
the "operator" often finds that he must clear his request or proposal through 
several such executives. Furthermore, since the chief executive and his 
staff are theoretically to be viewed as one Integrated unit, most decisions 
are made as a practical matter by one or more of the staff assistants. The 
chief executive merely signs the Implementing directives. This points up the 
arbitrary nature of the distinction made between line assistants and staff 

Lack of Understanding of Functions and Relationships . — Perhaps more 
than any other rationalization, this one is used to explain why line and staff 
clash. The inference is that there are too many executives in modern organi- 
zations who are uninformed and devoid of basic understanding of the "princi- 
ples" of organization. Koontz and O'Donnell state: 

. . . Confusion over line and staff has been heightened by the tendency 
to regard them as a division of managerial functions .... The fact is 
that no manager can manage unless he has the authority to engage in 
managerial functions. One who does not plan, organize, direct, staff, 
and control can hardly coordinate and prosecute the activities for which 
he has been given authority .... Nevertheless, this does not mean that 
staff officers do not assist line officers in carrying out their manager- 
ial functions.^® 

That this approach does not recognize the meaning of authority is obvious. It 
disregards the fact that as surely as subordinate line officers receive their 
Authority from the chief executive to engage in their "direct" functions, just 
as surely does the subordinate staff officer receive his authority from the 
same source to engage in "less direct" functions. The same authors also 
exhort : 

37See, for example, Henry H. Albers, Organized Executive Action (New 
York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1962), pp. 119-123. 

®®Koontz and O'Donnell, op. cit .. p. 140. 



. . . Not only must the staff executive recognize that his job Is to 
counsel, but the line executive must realize that, when receiving such 
advice. It must be regarded as advice, and not coznmand. Authority to 
manage must rest with the executive who stands In a line relationship 
with his subordinates. Failure to understand these relationships Is 
probably the greatest single cause for friction In an organization, 

If this Is In fact the case, then In modern organization there have to be a 
lot fever staff relationships than commonly assumed, because both line and 
staff middle managers are in fact managing. Mooney recognized this and used 
a tens which has more merit than has apparently been accorded It. He spoke 
of "auxiliary _llne functions" with reference to specialist activities which 
today are usually classified as staff speclal^es . This line of thought Is 
more compatible with the concept of a line organization structure than Is the 
concept of staff service which has been adopted. The problm In the func- 
tional process areas Is not so much one of advice and counsel, but a system 
which synthesizes all efforts, both "direct" and "Indirect" in the achieve- 
ment of organizational objectives. 

Another author In a recent book said conflict arises when staff units 
fall to understand that they must operate for the purpose of making line units 
efficient, not to make their own units efficient. Similarly in a recent 
article It was stated that staff men fall to realize the "... staff exists 
to serve line objectives."^^ On the contrary , it Is this very understanding 
which Intensifies conflict when role defense rears Its head. Failure on the 
part of staff units to understand this might lessen conflict In a typical 

3 9ibld .. p, 1A2. 

^^ooney, op. cit., p. 36. 

^^See Earl P. Strong, The Management of Business; An Introduction 
(New York: Harper and Bros., 1965), p. 318. 

^^Richard C. Ihinnlck and Robert J. House, "Improving the Management 
Staff Function,” Personnel . November-December , 1962, p. 42. 

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In another article entitled, "How to Crack Down on Company Politics," 

the author Inferred that a lack of basic understanding of — traditional — line- 

staff relationships gives rise to fear, which In turn gives rise to "politics” 

especially on the part of the staff. The Implied solution Is somewhat vague: 

An Individual resorts to politics basically out of fear. This Is always 
the hidden motive, but there are many surface ones linked to human needs 
for status, approval, power, authority, money, prestige, privilege, and 
responsibility. Politicians can operate effectively, however, only In 
situations where the top man Ignores or condones the practice. 

What Is the usefulness of the above? Is It that the "top man" should "crack 

down" on fear? 

The Theory Itself as a Cause of Attitudes Resulting In Dysfunction . — 
As a result of the line-staff theory and of cultural values, line managers 
attain status, esteem, and self-realization and guard them jealously; staff 
managers seek to obtain them. A recent study showed that line managers con- 
sistently get more out of their jobs than do staff managers. Line managers 
feel that they receive more esteem, autonomy, and self-realization than do 
staff managers. Line men are sure that forcefulness, self-confidence, and 
decisiveness are among the key needs for their jobs. Staff managers put more 

emphasis on agreeablllty and tact. More conformists (Whyte's "organization 

men" ) are found In staff positions than In line positions. Staff managers 
were slightly, but consistently more dissatisfied than line managers. 

In another less structured study of staff executives In the Federal 


J. D. Batten and James L. Swab, How to Crack Down on Company Poli- 
tics," Personnel . January-February, 1965, p. 11. 

^^See Lyman W. Porter, "Organizational Profile of the Dissatisfied 
Manager," Personnel Administration . May-June, 1965, pp. 6-11. 

^^llllam H. Whyte, Jr., The Organization of Man (New York: Simon and 

Schuster, 1956). 

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government. It waa found that 

. . . commonly held concepts of the staff officer's role — that his chief 
functions are service and advlce--have undergone considerable change In 
today's administrative patterns . . . that the staff officer Is con- 
cerned, directly as well as Indirectly, with policy matters. 

But the author stated, "Unfortunately, this view Is not held by everyone In 

public administration." "There are many, particularly those In the line 

operations, who still see the staff person as someone with only a limited 

contribution to make, and often one that Is felt to be of a negative rather 

than a positive nature." "As long as such opinions prevail, the staff role 

Is likely to be hedged In frustration and the organization will be deprived 

of the full utilization of some of Its most Important professional people. 

The Theory Itself as a Cause of Work Relationships Resulting In 
Dysfunction . — The line-staff theory delineates authority, assigns tasks and 
establishes responsibility, but It has little to say about how the work Is to 
be done. Difficulties arise In application: 

1. Staff may take the Initiative to advise without waiting for 
requests from managers with problems. Receptivity Is poor. 

2. Multiple Initiations from advisory groups can place a manager In 
conflict over whose expertise is most valuable. 

3. Advisory managers have relationships above and below the manager 
they are assisting; this upsets the equilibrium of the manager's position. 

4. When asked to take over a problem, the advisory manager who 
previously was only too anxious to help may fall to respond because he would 
be infringing on the other manager's "responsibility" to handle the situation. 

5. Advisory persoimel may Interfere with a manager's relationships 

^6see Brown, loc. clt . 


with his own subordinates. At times, the adviser may Initiate action for 
the other manager's subordinates. These Initiations can conflict with exist- 
ing orders. Even more troublesome, subordinates may find the advisory 
manager even more responsive to their Ideas or problems than their own 

manager. Such a shift can Injure the leadership position of the manager 


and cause him to resent the interference of the outsider. 

National Social Values as a Cause . — There is some evidence that line- 
staff frustrations are accentuated b y natlon al^soclal values . Gerald G. 

Flsch observed: 

In Germany the dominant organizational concept for many years, and still 
the dominant concept. Is the division on the basis of full equality 
between what Is called "technical" and "commercial" (or "business") 
functions. Whereas In America we worship the line executive. In Germany 
equal status and prestige are nominally given to both the technical and 
the business executives. But frequently in German practice key technical 
personnel have even greater status and prestige than their business 
counterparts . , . . 

Semantics . — The use of the terms line and staff to classify people 
and tasks gives rise to connotations which cause friction. One author states, 
"If you and your wife had discussed 'which of us is line, and which of us is 
staff?' during the first year of your marriage you probably wouldn't have 
entered Into the second year of your marriage. He says that what is 
Important Is "discussion of function and responsibility . . . 'while you are 
getting the car greased. I'll buy the groceries.'" "But trying to classify 
this work as either line or staff would be ridiculous .... Any effort to 
force all people In a plant Into the line-staff dichotomy Is no more proper 

^®See Sayles, Ibid . , p. 89. 

^^Gerald G. Flsch, "Line-Staff is Obsolete," Harvard Business Review , 
Vol. 39, No. 5, p. 72. 

Rich Johnson, "Line-Staff Revisited," Advanced Management , May, 

1958, p. 17. 


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than classifying all the vTorld's people as either * tali' or 'short'; there 
are just too many 'in betweens' for a realistic two-part breakdown 
Semantics as a cause of conflict was also demonstrated in Chapter I in exam- 
ining definitions of the terms. 

Some Causes of Antagonism Illustrated . — Melville Dalton studied 


line-staff conflicts in three industrial plants. He reported the following 
as contributing factors to ill will between the two groups. 


- As a group, staff personnel compared to line personnel were mark- 
edly ambitious, restless, and industrious. They were concerned with rapid 
promotion, making right impressions, and in receiving Individual recognition. 

- The line officers regarded their authority over production as 
something sacred, and resented the idea that they needed guidance of inex- 
perienced staff men. 

- Staff officers were yoimger, had more education, and dressed nicer 
than line officers. They considered themselves as agents of top management 
and tended to approach middle and lower class line with an attitude of 

- Line officers were afraid to adopt staff innovations because they 
felt that it would show them up before their superiors. (Line should have 
thought of the improvements themselves.) Line would adopt staff improvements 
more readily if line could take the credit for them. 

- Staff officers xrere frustrated because their promotion depended 
upon the nod of senior line executives more than upon their own staff super- 
iors. As a result, staff engaged in a struggle for senior line recognition 
which often was organizationally dysfunctional. 



^^Dalton, loc. cit . 





A recent study by the same author Indicated that a different organi- 
zation structure, one that discarded traditional theories, significantly 


reduced the conflict- 

Why They Feel As They Do About Each Other: Comment . — Attitudes of 

line and staff toward each other appear to be symptomatic rather than 
problematic. Their persistence over time, for one thing, tends to bear this 
out. Prejudicial clinging to static organization structure theories while 
at the same time subscribing to a dynamic approach to management in organi- 
zations is evident. Efforts to change antagonistic attitudes, that is, 
efforts to treat the symptoms of the conflict will be explored in Chapter III. 

How Serious Is It? 

First, there is a noticeable lack of evidence documenting the benefi- 
cial effects of line-staff conflict. A Federal government executive has 
rationalized that conflict must be beneficial; otheirwlse the organization 
structure would have been changed: 

. . . For a large organization is a deliberately created system of ten- 
sions into which each individual is expected to bring work-ways, view- 
points, and outside relationships markedly different from those of his 
colleagues. It is the administrator's task to draw from these disparate 
forces the elements of wise action from day to day, consistent with the 
purposes of the organization as a whole. 

Undoubtedly line and staff conflict serves at least to some extent 
in maintaining balance in an organization through recurring role defense and 
redefinition, and it may spur the generation of ideas for Improvement through 
competition for recognition by superiors. 

^^elvllle Dalton, "Changing Staff-Line Relationships," Public Admin- 
istration . March-April, 1966, pp. 3-5 and 40-48. 

^^arlan Cleveland, Assistant Secretary of State For International 
Organizations, "Dinosaurs and Personal Freedom," The Saturday Review . 

February 28, 1959, p. 36. 



There is much indictment of the conflict however, for its dysfunction- 
al effects. Time is wasted. Decisions are slowed. Efforts and decisions are 
suboptimized. Emotional considerations crowd out relevant criteria. Communi- 
cation in all networks is distorted. Efforts are directed away from both 
organizational and individual goals and objectives. Strategy becomes 
secondary to tactics. Barriers to cooperation are reinforced. Koontz and 
O'Donnell lead the attack: 

Much confusion has arisen both in literature and in management practice 
as to what line and staff are, and the results of this confusion have 
more than semantic significance. There is probably no other single area 
of management which in practice causes more difficulties, more friction, 
and more loss of time and effectiveness.^^ 

W. J. Donald said twenty years ago: 

If we have any particular curse in an organization today, it is in the 
cross currents of authority, the division of authority, the fact that a 
foreman hardly knows who is boss, hardly knows to whom he should go for 
ins truct ion . ^ 

Another author saw the development of a schism in organization due to staff 
hierarchies : 

Centralized services and budgetary and personnel controls are giving up 
a bad case of organizational schizophrenia as the control of mechanics 
becomes dissociated from, and builds up competing interests with, policy 

Formal responsibility for basic objectives seldom coincides with 
actual responsibility for results. Line may become overly-dependent on staff 
and pass all its problems for solution rather than for analysis and recom- 
mendation. Or, staff may over-sell the line. As one author pointed out. 

^^oontz and O'Donnell, op. cit ., p. 135. 

J. Donald, in an address to the American Management Association, 
cited in Albert Lepawsky (ed.), Administrat ion (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 

Inc., 1949), p. 303. 

^^Willard N. Hogan, "A Dangerous Tendency in Government," Public 
Administration Review. Summer, 1946. 




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• I 


... on the one hand, there's the risk that staff advisers may Impose 
too rigid requirements on the line with the aim of insuring a 
"scientific” — though frequently unrealistic — line operation. On the 
other hand, there's the equal risk that line managers may abdicate 
their authority and controls to "scientific" staff specialists . . . 

Probably the most serious charge made against line-staff conflict is 
that It will tend to proliferate Itself in modem organizations unless 
traditional structural theories are abandoned. Traditionally organizations 
are monistic with one supreme authority and a unity of command. To legitimate 
Internal conflict would be Inconsistent with the monocratlc nature of the 
hierarchy. It would require formal bargaining procedures. It is difficult 
to solve a problem which is not officially recognized. 

‘ Modern organizations [says Thompson] , through the formal hierarchy of 
authority, seek an "administered consensus." Conflict resolution, 
therefore must occur informally by surteptltlous and somewhat illegal 
means. Or else it is repressed, creating a phony atmosphere of good 
feeling and superficial harmony. 59 

58ounnuck and House, op. cit. . p. 41. 

59Thompson in Administrative Science Quarterly , op. cit ., p. 521. 


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In General 

The literature reflects two general attitudes toward meeting the 
problem of conflict between line and staff. One Is that there are no stand- 
ard solutions, but that "good managers" know how to effectively handle the 
problem; that It Is somewhat of a "trade secret" with each such manager and 
that others will have to work something out for themselves. The other 
attitude Is similar but one which generates multiple prescriptions similar 
to those freely preferred for hangover. The primary consideration In either 
case Is to control the staff. 

The first approach Is Illustrated by statements such as the one on 
page 31 above; the "top man" should "crack down" on the conflict. The 
latter could be Illustrated by voluminous quotations encountered by this 
writer while researching the subject. The following few have been selected 
to Illustrate range. They appear below generally In the order of the fre- 
quency with which they occurred. 

Insure Understanding of Functions 

Nhat Is stressed here Is orientation and effective Indoctrination 
through educational Institutions, through company training programs, company 
policies and procedures, and through dally operating routines. The perspec- 
tive sought Is one w^hlch will Insure the unquestioned acceptance of 
"principles" such as those which were listed near the end of Chapter I. Note 



that the emphasis is not on the validity of the concepts, but on their being 
clearly understood and accepted.^® In fact, many of the "principles" have 
become cliches among students and practitioners in the field. The weakness 
of this approach is the cognitive dissonance produced in the individual when 
he tries to apply what he believes. 

A more rational approach is to Insure understanding of the basic 
objectives of the organization.^^ This will Improve perception of the "real 
world," but causes reality to be no less at odds with traditional structural 
role concepts of line ^^»d staff. 

Define Responsibility and Establish Written Rules 

This prescription takes the legalistic approach and gives each 
opponent a chapter and verse to cite in defending his case. Implicit in 
rules is a mediator or judge who resolves any controversy arising therefrom. 
This is one of the roles of a common (line) superior. Albers states that the 
common superior "... should not hesitate to support or restrain his staff 
or operating executives whenever constructive differences of opinion begin 
to deteriorate into Internecine warfare. Leonard Sayles noted, "The two 
most often cited [means of resolving differences] are the existence of rules 
that automatically settle the dispute and an appeal to a common, higher 
authority." But he countered, "We have observed rather little use of 

60it seems unnecessary to document this, but see, for example, Koontz 
and O’Donnell, op. cit .. pp. 137-142; Albers, op. cit .. pp. 131-133; and 
any of a variety of management texts. 

^^See David S. Brown, "Importance of Understanding Objectives," The 
Federal Accountant . March, 1964, pp. 63-73, and Glen A. Bassett and R. H. 
Hawk, "Function and Dysfunction in the Organization," Personnel , September- 
October, 1965, pp. 23-31. 

^^Albers, op . cit . , p. 133. 



Reduction to writing Is simply a communications vehicle. Relation- 
ships are not established by communications per se. Relationships may be 
observed and may be described In writing, but to establish a relationship, 
the components of a system are arranged In such a way as to produce the 
desired relationship. A change In the relationship requires a rearrangement 
of the components. To paraphrase a cliche. It Is the organization chart 
which delineates the rights of members, but It Is the actual structure of 
which the chart Is an attempted representation which determines the roles 
of members. Written rules are static; organization structure Is dynamic. 

There are a number of reasons why conflict will not be laid at the 
doorstep of a superior for resolution. A primary one Is that both contenders 
run the risk of losing; both normally lose some freedom of discretion In 
their areas of operation. Airing of one matter tends to expose several others 
which both parties find embarrassing. "Finally according to Sayles, 'it Is 
not considered comme 11 faut to run to the boss."^^ Managers are supposed 
to solve problems, not create them. It Is widely recognized that an organi- 
zation cannot long exist without cooperation among peers and at the peer 
levels. The hierarchical coranunlcatlons networks would otherwise be hope- 
lessly Jammed. 

The Salesmanship Approach 

This tenet Is widely held; It pervades the literature. Since the 
staff recommends and the line decides with respect to basic objectives, the 
burden Is upon the staff man not only to seek out the line manager's problems 

^^Sayles, op. clt .. p. 187. 

^ ^Ibld .. p. 188. 

•I ^ rit i •WH ^ 

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and the factors which contribute to them, and to recommend sound, practical 

solutions, but also to dress-up the solutions in such ways which will make 

the solutions attractive to line managers. Good ideas are useless unless 

they are implemented. Only line managers can Implement. To what degree the 

staff man must sell his recommendations is the subject of considerable 

discussion. Opinions run the gamut from compulsory consultation to no line- 

initiated contacts. The supporting postulate, in all cases, is that staff 

men do not make decisions. Even where staff specialists do have the 

authority to decide concerning company-wide accounting procedures or company- 

wide employee grievance procedures, the proponents of the salesmanship 

approach rationalize that the idea was "sold to the President” who made the 

decision. The lack of cogency of this argtiment to distinguish between line 

and staff authority is too apparent for comment. 

Melville Dalton pointed to the salesmanship role as a source of 

staff specialist frustration in the three companies which he studied. 

The unsophisticated staff officer's initial contacts with the shifting, 
covert, expedient arrangements between members of staff and line usually 
gave him a severe shock. He had entered Industry prepared to engage in 
logical, well-formulated relations with members of the managerial hier- 
archy, to carry out precise, methodical functions for which his training 
had equipped him. Now he learned that (1) his freedom to function was 
snared in a web of Infomal commitments; (2) his academic specialty (on 
which he leaned for support in his new position) was often not relevant 
for carrying out his formal assignments; and that (3) the important 
thing to do was to learn who the Informally powerful line officers were 
and what ideas they would welcome which at the same time would be 
acceptable to his [staff] superiors. 

The salesmanship prescription formulated for the staff officer's dilemma 
described above is strong medicine: 

1. In the absence of authority, exercise "influential influence ." 

^Siiooney covers this point thoroughly, op. cit ., ch. V and XIV. 
^^alton in American Sociological Review, loc. cit . 

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2. Relate staff efforts to the company as a whole . Be sensitive to 
the line manager's needs. Become familiar with all phases of the business, 
but don't get in the way while you're doing it; be tactful about it. 

3. Give sound and reliable advice. Build your reputation. Prove 
to the line manager that "staff are good." Feel a sense of responsibility 
for the outcome of the advice you give. (You don't really have any, 
however . ) 

4. Help solve problems as the line manager sees them . The real 
problem is not important if the line manager doesn't sec it. Don't work up 
your own big package. He's not interested in the rest of the company. He's 
interested in his own shop. Don't tell him he has a problem; ask him. He'll 
tell you if he has one. 

5. Above all, avoid playing the expert . Show a sincere and personal 
regard for his abilities, interests, and self growth, and refrain from 
flaunting your specialized education in his face. 

6. Let the line manager take the credit for your ideas, if they 
turn out to be good ones . It is, after all, his shop and if he hadn't 
accepted the idea and tried it, the successful change never would have 
occurred. He may resist your suggestions because of his own ego drive and 
the desire for independence. Agreeing to change may make him feel that he 
is admitting to his own deficiencies. The wise staff man will see to it, 
therefore, that others take most of the credit for successful changes. 

7. Don't be frustrated . Every staff man, after all, faces the same 
challenge of relating his specialized knowledge and methods to the primary 
needs and objectives of the organization and of winning the line management's 
acceptance and support for his function. 

8. Avoid clashes . By avoiding clashes of authority and the buck- 


passing so commonly found in line-staff relations, respect for the staff 
man's position will be built up and in this way will ultimately increase his 
influence on the company's operations . 

In prescribing the cure, undoubtedly the physician has put the 
patient on the critical list. The implicit assumptions in the salesmanship 
approach Include at least the following: 

1. The line officer: 

a. is probably a very insecure individual; 

b. may be extremely egocentric; 

c. is probably Incapable of discussing an issue on its ovn 
merits and of relating his job to any other in the organization; 

d. is usually easily manipulated, "if you know how.” 

2. The staff officer: 

a. can know his job and the line officer's job also; 

b. in addition, is a diplomat; 

c. is morally above reproach, because he must use as a minimum 
subterfuge, camouflage, and deceitful merchandising, all for a good cause; 

d. is a self-appointed guardian of the organizational objectives, 
with innate characteristics of the chief executive; 

e. but since he is working with the "king's harem," he must 
disguise himself as a eunuch; 

f. does not have ego needs except those satisfied by secretly 

^^Thls is neither a hximorous nor a sarcastic approach. See 
Toussalnt, loc. cit .; Sayles, op. cit ., p. 91; and Robert C. Sampson, The 
Staff Role in Management (New York: Harper and Bros., 1955). Sampson states, 

for example, "For the staff man it x^lll mean a more humble, subordinate, 
comprehensive approach calling for a variety of skills, with less singleness 
of theme and effect. The line executive's authority is accepted carte 
blanche. The onus on the staff man is to have the capacity and x/llllngness 
to counsel with executives on their problems, . . . and to help them arrive 
at their solutions," p. 9. 

««tJ'«l« ilMI MS' 41 


knowing that he is so superior to line officers. 

g. naturally chooses his friends and associates from among his 
Intellectual peers, and not frcm among line off leers. 

3. The most serious Implication is that cooperation between line 
and staff Is a one-way street. 

Without any other cause of line-staff conflict, adoption of the 
salesmanship concept on the part of the staff Is breeding ground enough to 
enlarge the conflict to major proportions unless line officers (1) are not 
aware of the strategy; (2) really are as they are implied to be; or (3) 
have an extremely high tolerance threshold. Some combination of the three 
is possible. 

Porter’s recent study of 1,916 American managers drat-m from a wide 

cross-section of executives at all levels Indicated that 

. . . the staff manager has to be somewhat more versatile than the line 
manager. Not only must the staff man place more emphasis on each of the 
five other-directed traits [cooperation, adaptability, caution, agree- 
abllity, and tact] ; but he must also show as much, if not more, of 
certain traits of Inner-dlrected behavior. [The five Inner-dlrected 
traits measured in the study were forcefulness, imagination, independ- 
ence, self confidence, and decisiveness.] On the other hand, the line 
manager apparently can afford to concentrate his job behavior in more 
limited dimensions, putting relatively heavy emphasis on certain aspects 
of inner-dlrected behavior such as forcefulness and decisiveness ... .^9 

VJhether the indications of Porter’s study represent a cause or an effect of 

the salesmanship approach for staff executives is an area which is meritorious 

of further study. If they represent an effect, line managers have been the 

victims of a grave injustice. Management theory today, as will be discussed 

in Chapter IV, puts emphasis on interdependence rather than independence; 

^®The alternative to (a) through (g) above is that the staff man is 
an outsider — an Independent consultant — working with "insiders." 

^%.yman W. Porter, Organizational Patterns of Managerial Job 
Attitudes , a monograph, an American Foundation for Management Research 
study (New York: American Foundation for Management Research, 1964), p. 44. 

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on the other-directed — relationship — traits rather than on the inner- 
directed traits. (Porter’s study also showed that management level has a 
much stronger relationship to job attitudes than does the t 3 rpe of position, 
line or staff.) 

Other Approaches 

Organize staff on the basis of obiectlves . — Staff groups, according 

to this approach, should be organized on the basis of the broad objectives 

to which they are to contribute, rather than on the basis of function or 

specialized knowledge. Dunnuck and House provide the following guidelines; 

If a staff activity exists to provide advice to line management, the 
staff group should report to the same organizational level as do the 
line managers it advises .... If the staff group serves the entire 
organization, it should be separated from the line and should report to 
an executive who coordinates both line and staff activities. A staff 
group that gives critical advice to or assists higher management in 
control should be assigned to an echelon equal to that of the line 
people being advised or controlled.'^ 

Organization by project represents another attempt to minimize staff- 
line conflict. It is a method of focusing attention on the relative 
importance of task accomplishment and requires line and staff to work more 
closely with each other. Project management emphasizes functional responsi- 
bility, but smacks of separate authority represented by a hierarchy of line 
coordinators readily available to make the necessary decisions for all 

Delegate regulated authority to staff . — Give staff authority to 
accomplish basic staff programs, but set specific controls on staff use of 
authority. Authors of a study of functional authority concluded; 

^^^nnuck and House, op. ext ., p. 45. 
^^See Vlcek, loc. cit . 



. . . The most effective control or limit on possible unwanted effects 
from the use of functional authority is the restriction of its flow in 
the organization: 86% of the participants [in a study of thirty-four 

companies varying in size, of which twenty-six subscribe to the use of 
functioruil authority] restricts its effect to no more than the first 
level below that of the staff executive with such authority. 

Measure staff performance on a meaningful basis . — Sayles proposes to 
measure staff performance by the ability of staff personnel to "fit into the 
organization. " 

. . . The requirements for and satisfactions from these jobs should be 
derived from successful Interrelationships with other work systems. In 
fact the successes (and failures) of these groups should be measured 
(monitored) in terms of their ability to fit into the organization as an 
operating system. Too often they are measured by purely Internal tech- 
nical standards of performance and competency. 73 

The logic of the above is not questioned with reference to the staff, but 
with reference to all other components of the organization. Sayles is not 
advocating conformity as such. He is emphasizing that staff should be 
measured by how effectively its contribution favorably affects the accomplish- 
ment of objectives. However, what he implies is that line personnel should 
be measured by some other means. He also implies that the organization 
exists Independent of staff, that staff has not been given a place in the 
organization structure, and that it is up to staff to "fit in" somewhere. 

Another author thinks that perhaps the advertising director should be 
held accountable for producing additional sales as opposed to simply adver- 
tising; that the personnel director should be held accountable for increasing 
productivity of employees vice administering the company’s personnel program; 
and that the head of the Inspection department should be required to maintain 
or attain a minimum quality of marketed product rather than administering 
the inspection function. Thus, he says, ". . . staff and line are being 

^^Bailey and Savage, op. cit. , p. 38. 

73sayles, op. cit ., p. 110. 


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judged by the same tough criterion; there is no 'double standard. 

Another author confirms that both staff and line have stakes in the 
"results" for which, according to line-staff theory, only the line is held 

... It is not correct to describe a research department manager as 
responsible for his firm's new products, a sales manager for the sales 
figures . . . , a safety engineer for the prevention of accidents .... 
Each of the employees contributes by his work to the outcome mentioned. 
But he cannot by himself be said to be responsible for that outcome. 

There obviously is no accurate way in which any group or any member of an 

organization can be given credit precisely equal to contribution to the end 

product produced. 

Give dual credit to line and staff . — In many organizations, various 
often Intricate measures have been developed by staff managers themselves to 
justify the costs of their contribution to organizational objectives. These 
usually consist of highly questionable self-appraisals of the total "savings" 
for which their activities can be given credit. These "totals" serve to 
Increase tension between staff and line offlcials.^^ One suggestion is to 
give full credit to both line and staff: "When line and staff overlap in 

accountability for a result, both should get full credit for the accomplish- 
ment of that result. 

This idea conveys a vagueness similar to that experienced by many 
people with regard to deficit spending on the part of the Federal government. 
There is just so much "credit." To "give credit where credit is due" is the 

^^Schleh, loc. cit . 

75Eiiiott Jaques, Equitable Payment (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 

1961), p. 61. 

76gayles, op. cit .. p. 196. 
^^Schleh, loc. cit . 


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balanced budget concept. How can credit be created? Perhaps credit is 
valued in proportion to its availability: increase the supply and its 

value declines. 

Job rotation . — Where executives can be shifted among line and staff 
positions, this has been found to be effective in reducing line-staff 
conflict.^® Individual perspectives are broadened and stereotypes applied 
to individuals are broken. Specialization, by its very definition, however, 
limits the extent to vrhich job rotation can be practiced, especially at 
lower and highly technical levels of supervision. 

Recognize the conflict and live with it . — Leonard Sayles makes this 


Most Americans and Western Europeans are brought up to believe that 
consensus and unity are an essential ingredient for any successful 
political, social, or economic institution. But this firm belief in 
oneness does not square with the facts. Companies, like all large 
organizations, have built-in divisions, and even in the proverbial 
”long run” they tend not to be eliminated. The manager must antici- 
pate that more than one team will be playing in his organization and 
not find this immoral or upsetting. 

A practicing manager offered comment to the effect that the manager simply 
first must evaluate the role of staff functions by determining the part 
staff must play in the over-all success of the operation; then it becomes a 
matter of developing the program which must be followed to accomplish these 
objectives: ”... the manager i s responsible for determining line-staff 

relationships.” ”To my knowledge, no one has yet found a substitute for 
management . 

78see, for example, American Management Association Special Report 
No. 18, Line-Staff Relationships in Production (New York: American Manage- 

ment Association, 1957). 

79sayles, op. cit ., pp. 140-141. 

2%orley H. Mathemson, ”How Maintenance Serves Line Management,” 
Al^IA Special Report No. 18, op. c±t . , p. 101. 


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This approach at least advocates open recognition of the problem, 

but essentially implies that there Is no solution, or that "good managers" 

somehow know what to do. Even Chester I. Barnard two months prior to his 

death had little encouragement for those who seek a solution to line-staff 

conflldt. In an Informal Interview he was asked, "What is your thinking 

about the line-staff dilemma?" Barnard replied: 

Well, all effective staff work, or most of It at least. Involves a 
moral aspect. It's persuasive, fundamentally. Now, It's persuasive 
partly because whoever is talking Is expert In a particular segment. 

But that Is not sufficient. Experts are very frequently quite Inef- 
fective because they are unacceptable to line organizations due to 
overbearing manners, looking down their noses, or what have you. And 
the top men of the organization have to make It work. Insofar as they 
can, by Insisting that subordinate line officials take Into account 
what the experts say and advise. In any specific Instance the line 
will always be supported in any good organization. But If, In general, 
you find a man In the line who doesn't listen to anybody except himself 
or his boss and who doesn't take Into account all the factors and com- 
plexes that are Involved, then, in practical words, why you just have 
to get rid of him. He can't work in the organization, and he's just 
as bad as the staff man who Is really expert in some particular thing 
but thinks that's the only thing in the world, and he has to have his 
own way about It. No, you can get almost an infinite variety of 
methods by which staff work and line work are conducted and there's 
no clear-cut division on that subject and In my opinion there never 
will be.®^ 

Traditional Approaches: A Summary Analysis 

The prescriptions for line-staff tensions are directed heavily toward 
the staff. Staff is viewed as the problem; as an exogenous. Incompatible 
element which will not compound vrlth the line organization. In lieu of a 
compound, an acceptable mixture should be sought. Exhortations to the line 
are few and Incidental In nature. Principally they are:®2 

a. Line should make use of staff. Otherwise "... staff service 

®%llllam B. Wolf, "Precepts for Managers — Interviews with Chester I. 
Barnard," California Management Review , Fall, 1963, Journal of the Graduate 
School of Business Administration, University of California, Los Angeles. 

®^See Allen, op. clt ., pp. 374-375. 



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always tends to atrophy. 

b. Line should make proper use of staff, that is, seek staff assist- 
ance and seriously consider staff advice. 

c. Line should keep staff informed. 

While no attempt has been made in this chapter to distinguish between 
hierarchical echelons of the line officials with whom there is staff conflict, 
it is apparent that the conflict is not so much between subordinate staff 
assistants and their hierarchical line superiors. The conflict is primarily 
between the staff specialist and functional line officers, or as Mooney 
would say, between line and auxiliary line. 

Traditional attempts to lessen the conflict have, in all probability, 
intensified it. Insuring accurate understanding of traditional concepts of 
line-staff relationships most surely contributes to conflict. The two groups 
would be less antagonistic if the understanding advocated were more vague. 
Certainly the prime strategy of success recommended for the staff officer 
should never be divulged to the line if conflict is to be minimized. 

Making sure basic organizational objectives are understood and stress- 
ing cooperation are certainly v7orthwhile and are no doubt effective, but 
simply telling people to work together has its limitations especially when 
routine vTork relationships are not compatible with the telling. Written rules, 
legalistic role definition. Inferences of degrees of Importance of roles, and 
advocation of subterfuge and manipulation are antithetic to cooperation and 
tend to produce imbalance. The organizational "mixture’* sought persists in 
separating. What is needed is a management and organization theory which 
describes and assists in producing a "compound." The probes being made in 
search of such a theory are examined in Chapter IV. 

83Mooney, op. cit . , p. 42. 


A New Emphasis 

Perhaps ironically, the development of the individual with the growth 
of specialization has focused attention on the reality of a complex inter- 
dependence in organizations. Interdependence smacks of equality in importance 
of contribution, at least in a marginal sense. Interdependence challenges 
the traditional distinction between hierarchical and specialist roles. It 
tends to ally authority with conditions rather than positions. It attacks 
the concept of the concentration of authority and decision-making in the hands 
of a hierarchical few. It tends to ally rights with abilities and to define 
roles as a combination of the two. 

If specialization implies interdependence, interdependence likewise 
implies specialization: specialists in what to do; specialists in how to do 

it; specialists in when, where, and why to do it; and specialists in doing 
it. Interdependence implies a bargaining and agreement among specialists if 
coordination is to be achieved. It also implies, according to Barnard, a 
''surplus of satisfaction." That is, "If each man gets back only what he 
puts in, there is no Incentive, ... no net satisfaction for hlra."®^ From 
the point of view of the organization, it implies a synergistic effect of 
increased output. 

Interdependence among individuals in an organization suggests a 
degree of Independence on the part of the individual with respect to the 

^^Barnard , op. cit . , p . 58 . 



organization and a dependence on the part of the organization with respect 

to the individual. Again quoting Thompson: 

Under the influence of the primitive monistic ideal, modern organizations 
are modeled more on the parent-child relationship than on the adult rela- 
tionships of specialist equals and colleagues. Attempts to maintain the 
legitimacy of the ideal lead to a great deal of hypocracy and pretense 
and to the creation of myths, such as ”the ignorance of the masses,” 

“the Indispensability of leadership,” and “the magical power of fear." ^ 

Barnard, in 1938, said "... Successful cooperation in or by formal organi- 
zations is the abnormal, not the normal, condition." "What are observed from 
day to day are the successful survivors among Innumerable failures."®^ 

There is greater emphasis today in organization and management theory 
on the interrelationships among people and between people and their environ- 
ment. This is evidenced by the growing conceim with human relations and the 
effects of small groups in organization, and by the idea of participative 
management. Traditionally, cooperation has been sought within a structure 
in order to accomplish objectives. There is evidence that current thought 
is along the lines of structuring a system which facilitates both. Thompson 
asserts : 

In the modern period of specialization, the one desideratum that over- 
shadows all others in importance is cooperation. The activities of 
specialists must be meshed together, and the predisposition to submit 
to this co-ordination is what we mean by cooperation. Consequently, the 
test of social institutions cannot be only their productivity. Also of 
importance is whether they promote co-operation .... The needs for 
products change, but the need for co-operation grows more intense. The 
ultimate test of organizational practices, therefore, must be their 
effect on the co-operative system.®^ 

Conflict between line and staff constitutes a prime target for efforts to 
Improve Interpersonal relationships. 

^^Thompson, Modern Organizations, op. cit ., p. 20. 
^ ^Barnard, op . cit . , p. 5. 

®^Thompson, loc , cit . , p. 179. 


The Trend Away From Line and Staff 
Discarding the terms (Semantics ) . — In Chapter I, the difficulty In 
defining line and staff was demonstrated. This In Itself suggests that they 
are of little or no usefulness In describing organizational phenomena. 
Information theory demands that symbols transmitted be ascribed the same 
meaning by the receiver as that ascribed by the sender. **Terms usually used 
In discussions of organizations are *llne,^ *staff,* ^operating,* Afunctional/ 
'advisory/ and 'service'; but often the distinctions between them are hazy 
and the Interrelationships not clearly defined."®® 

A vice president of Johns-Manvllle Corporation said in 1954, regard- 
ing line and staff: 

I usually cannot understand what other people mean when they use the 
terms. Like two coins that have been long in use, they have grown 
smoothe with much handling — or mishandling .... Let us beware of 
the idea . . . that everyone is either a line man or a staff man. 

Often these duties are quite mixed .... I have often been asked 
to delineate line and staff functions. 1 cannot do that. 1 have 
never heard anyone else do that. So, far from trying to delineate 
them, I recommend that you wish them out of your halr.®^ 

The discarding of the line and staff labels with the many and varied connota- 
tions associated with them would free scholars and managers from a great 
handicap in explaining organizations and in attempting to build meaningful 
models. (For example, this paper could have been written on a more Important 
sub j ect . ) 

Recognition of Functional Authority . — As technology becomes more 
complicated, the number of specialized groups within an organization and the 
number of bases from vrhich decisions can be made Increase. The so-called 

®®Carl Heyel, How to Achieve Effective Line-Staff Teamwork Through 
Seven Basic Line-Staff Relationships (Brookhaven, Pennsylvania: Assignments 

in Management, 1964), p. 1. 

®9Alvin Brown, op. clt ., pp. 35-36. 


line-staff exception to the "normal" chain of command comes close to being 
the rule.^® One study indicated that staff officers can make decisions 
affecting the line without any apparent ill effects on the llne.^^ The 
authors explained the relationship on two grounds: (1) It appears that 

people can work together under a variety of organizational arrangements. 
"People get used to it" was the typical explanation. (2) There may be a 
"unity of purpose" between the staff and the line — they may think alike— 
which makes it possible for staff executives to share in certain line 
responsibilities without staff-line friction. 

In support of functional authority, another author makes the point 
that . . the fact that someone established these [staff] functions in 
order to bring into the organization expert, specialized help is indicative 
of the responsibility entrusted to them."®^ He apparently feels that, 
traditionally, staff authority has not been commensurate with staff responsi- 

In the recent study of thirty-four companies (previously described) , 
the results showed that "well over one-half of the respondents regard the 
functional authority relationship as an expansion of the staff concept . . . . 
Furthermore, over one-third of the respondents endeavor to change their 
f ormal organizations where improvements ..." due to the use of functional 
authority develop Informally. 

50See Sayles, op. cit . , p. 30. 

^^harles A. Meyers and John G. Turnbull, "Line and Staff in Indus- 
trial Relations," Harva r d Business Review . July-August, 1956, pp. 113-124. 

^ ^Ifaid ., p. 121. 

^%obert D. Ilulme, "Resolving the Line-Staff Muddle," Advanced 
Ma nagement , November, 1959, p. 28. 

^‘^Bailey and Savage, ioc. cit . Emphasis in the original. 


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Changes in industry have turned research, product development 
engineering, accounting, and finance into departments that represent the 
very core of profit opportunity for today’s manufacturing enterprises.^^ 
"Surely there must be something wrong with a concept which treats as advisory 
or support groups those functions that create the hub of today’s manufacturing 
enterprises . 

Fisch notes a trend in U. S. and Canadian companies toward what he 
calls the functional-teamwork concept of organization structure. Functions 
are grouped into three categories: process functions , those controlled on a 

time basis such as sales, manufacturing, purchasing, advertising, and distri- 
bution; resources control functions ^ the watch dog functions, such as finance, 
personnel, and facilities; and the relations function which directs the 
company’s communications effort both within and outside the company. 

Clarifying the relations function, he states: 

Indeed when one deals with the various staff and line groups charged 
with relations responsibilities in most corporations, the corporation 
appears to be a raulti-headed monster without cohesiveness of direction 
or any consistency in its objectives, and without the means of expressing 
these objectives. The relations function seeks to remedy this 

The functional-teamwork concept does not make the traditional distinction 
between staff specialists and functional line executives. It purportedly 
makes three basic improvements: (1) covers all necessary tasks and gives 

appropriate weight and authority to each; (2) achieves a logical — rather 

9 %bid . 

^^Fisch, op. clt. , p. 68. 

^ ^Ibld . . p. 74. 


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than an arbitrary — separation among these functions; and (3) gives "special- 
ization with honor" to the people who head these functions, relegating to 
none the sterility of a staff position. It recognizes that the people 
called "staff" in some organizations are really just as vitally and criti- 
cally concerned with what are arbitrarily called line decisions as are the 
"line" executives. It also recognizes that in violation of traditional 
concepts of organization structure and lines of communications, in actual 
work situations people do coordinate their efforts and do work together in 
ways which cut across functional lines. Fisch concludes, ". . .if key 
pepple cannot do their best living and working under a conceptually confused 
and contradictory organizational system such as line-staff, perhaps they 
could be relieved of considerable strain and anxiety and made more efficient 
and productive if the line-staff concept were discarded completely 

Interdependence: A Challenge to Traditional Concepts 

While discarding of labels and recognition of a greater distribution 
of decision-making centers may ameliorate internal conflict by removing nega- 
tive influences, the positive approach to coordination merits more consider- 
ation. The line-staff structure has served at least reasonably well to 
discipline efforts on the basis of organization objectives. It has guarded 
against the self-procreation of staff contributions. If it is to be dis- 
carded, what structural control device will take its place? I’Haat atmosphere 
is conducive to cooperation among specialists, and coordination of specialist 
and hierarchical roles? What descriptive terms square with the facts? 

Barnard said in 1938 that "human organisms do not function except in 

^ %bld . . p. 79. 

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conjunction with other human organisms."^®® More recently, social scientists 
have pointed out the amazing extent to which Individuals are regulated and 
coordinated by the Informal groups of which they are members. This group- 
Idcntlf Icatlon approach to coordination recognizes the Importance of coopera- 
tlveneas, the willingness to be coordinated. It severely attacks the old 
individual- incentives approach. Emphasis is pieced on shared values, the 
alignment of official organizational values In compatibility with organiza- 
tional sub-group values. Traditional alphas Is has been on converting 
Individuals to organizational goals, through manipulation. Straight conver- 
sion Is highly Improbable according to the social scientists. As a result 
It may be simulated, resulting In phony cooperativeness and h 5 rpocracy. Is 
not an Individual’s good effort enough? Why must organizations also demand 
his soul? Is the traditional authority system weakening? ; Is legitimacy 

Under advanced specialization, cooperation must depend on recognized 
and accepted mutual Interdependence. Authoritative direction Is none-the- 
less Important, but It must be disciplined and defined by reason and the 
reality of the environment In which it Is exercised. Mot only must the 
"authority of the situation" described by Mary Parker Follett be considered, 
but general situational patterns must be recognized In attempting to delineate 
authority. With status and function for all. Interdependencies are at 
least tolerable because the necessity for them can be demonstrated. Artifi- 
cially created Interdependencies — those created by sheer acts of hierarchical 

lOOsarnard, op. clt ., p. 11. 

l^^See Thompson, loc. clt ., pp. 183-184. 

102see Mary Parker Follett, loc. clt . 

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authority — are intolerable and dysfunctional* The official system of regu- 
lation should be a description of the actual interdependence which in fact 
exists in the organization structure.^®^ 

Basic policy direction should emanate from specialists in that area, 
from specialists who devote their time and efforts to that function, from 
sub-groups whose primary task is policy direction* Most of the members of 
the sub-group or groups in which broad policy makers work are each, in turn, 
also members of other sub-groups in which narrower policy decisions are made, 
and so on throughout the organization. There is a continuum of interest in 
and influence on the making and execution of policy throughout the organiza- 
tion* This would recognize the fact that decisions — even policy decisions — 
are made throughout the organization by each member of the organization*^®^ 
Drucker has said: 

The business enterprise of today * * * is primarily an organization of 
professionals with highly specialized knowledge exercising autonomous, 
responsible judgment* And every one of them — whether manager or in- 
dividual expert contributor — constantly makes truly entrepreneurial 
decisions which affect the economic characteristics and risks of the 
entire enterprise *1®^ 

The fact that some decisions are over-ruled by a member’s on sub-group or by 
other groups does not alter the fact that each member knows that he had a 
chance to be heard. The ability to contribute would be officially accorded 
the right to be consulted* The important phenomenon is that the right to be 
heard incurs a member’s allegiance to his group and gives rise to a personal 
commitment on his part* This personal commitment is what management has 

^®3see Thompson, loc* cit *, pp* 187-188. 

^®^See Likert on the "linking pin" theory, Rensis Likert, New 
Patterns of Management (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), esp* ch* 8. 

l®5peter F* Drucker, "Long-Range Planning, Challenge to Management 
Science," Management Science , April, 1959, p. 242* 



sought through the ages. The coimnitment thus incurred is real, personal, 
and not a simulated one. Traditional theory has failed to consider that 
Individual incentives rarely lift human behavior out of the ordinary; that 
heroic behavior is group-inspired behavior; and that an individual's personal 
values which determine how he will respond to various incentives arc the 
result of his associations with groups, both within and outside a particular 

Increasingly today writers are saying that organizations should be 
structured to take advantage of an Individual's predisposition to cooperate 
in small groups, and that the key to structure is the compatible arrangement 
of those groups in a systematic order; that is, management's task is not to 
make decisions so much as it is to construct an "interaction- inf luence 
system" through which good decisions will be made.^®^ McGregor's Theory Y 
is receiving more recognition; Taylorism and the economic man are receiving 

Transitional Steps 

Moves to tear down barriers to cooperation and to emphasize "func- 
tional teamwork" have been discussed. Other transitional steps which have 
been suggested are: 

1. Working supervisors . — Time available for close supervision should 
be restricted. 

2. Job enlargement . — Whenever machine technology allows, the micro- 
division of labor should be ended. 

3. Discipline the hierarchy . — Strip it of its exaggerated deference. 
Subject activities performed in these roles to the same kind of instrumental 

^®%ee Thompson, loc. cit ., pp. 190-191. 
lO^See Likert, op. cit. , esp. ch. 12. 



questioning and modification as other activities in the organization. Repeal 
theoretical laws which establish offenses against ”a ruler’s dignity." Put 
an end to acts of pure authority which establish interdependencies which are 

Redefine "succes s." — Establish perhaps two equal salary and bene- 
fits scales, one for functional specialists and one for hierarchical positions. 
Realign concepts of esteem and status to values approximating each other. 

Reconsider the "generalist" concept . — Administrators of an 
increasing number of organizations must be trained specialists, at home in 
the other-worldly language of particular subjects and perceptive in judgment 
among divergent opinions of members of a scientific and professional 
community . 

6. Think in terms of systems . — There is too much concentration on 
components and "brush fires." Administrators must think in terms of adjust- 
ments rather than solutions, and in terms of how an adjustment to one system 
component will affect that component’s interaction with other components, and 
finally how the adjustment will affect the interaction of the organization 
as a whole with its environment, or larger systems. 

Changing Roles of the Staff Assistant 

While much has been said regarding the changing concepts of tradi- 
tional staff specialist roles, there is also evidence of a similar trend 
toward recognition of what structural relationships actually are in staff 

lOSThe four suggestions above were made by Thompson, loc. cit .^ 
pp. 194-196. 

^®%ee James W. Fesler, "Specialist and Generalist," Public Adminis- 
tration Review , Fall, 1958, p. 370. 

H^See Richard A. Johnson, Fremont E. Kast, and James E. Rosenzweig, 
"Systems Theory and Management," Management Science , January, 1964, 
pp. 367-384. 

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assistant roles, as opposed to what traditional staff-line theory prescribes 
that they should be. A recent major study sponsored by the National Indus- 
trial Conference Board revealed little, if any, meaningful distinction 
between the authority of line assistants and staff assistants at the corporate 
level of divisionalized companies. The authors concluded: 

Considering the broad scope of activities that these general executives 
coordinate, and considering their very close reporting relationship to 
the chief executive, it seems evident that these general executives have 
a perspective, responsibility, and authority approaching that of the 
chief executive himself. Even though some coordinate only staff func- 
tions, it is questionable whether any of them can be considered ’’staff 
executives.” Regardless of title, in a substantial sense, they are 
’’assistant” or even ’’associate chief executives.” To a certain extent 
this is also true of some of the staff and operating executives among 
the companies analyzed .... 

[The staff general executives] . . . can be considered staff executives 
only in the limited sense that they direct staff work. But in the 
management of the total complex that is a divisionalized company, they 
are as much line as staff in the responsibility and authority they 
exercise relative to establishing and maintaining the objectives and 
policies that shape and foirm the business. 

To paraphrase another quotation, there is nothing so unuseful as an (invalid) 


Implications for the Future 

The Declining Autocracy . — Drucker declared that ’’ninety per cent of — 
the trouble we are having with the chief executive's job is routed in our 

*1 *1 o 

superstition of the one-man chief. Three primary forces have greatly 
complicated the chief executive's job in recent years: (1) the impact of 

technology — ninety percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are 

Ills ee Harold Stieglitz and Allen R. danger, "Top Management Organi- 
zation in Divisionalized Companies," Studies in Personnel Policy, No. 195 
(New York: National Industrial Conference Board, 1965). 

^^ ^Ibid . , p. 18 and p. 36. 

113peter Drucker, Cited in D. Robert Daniel, "Team at the Top," 
Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1965, p. 74. 


alive today; (2) the broadening product base of large companies; and (3) 
the international scope of operations. The chief executive has become a 
figurehead and a pawn in the hands of his own organization. There logically 
follows the concept of a plural executive — a top management team. Labels 
such as "office of the president," "chief executive office," "executive 
department," and "executive committee" are emerging. The Dupont Company, 
for example, adopted this concept several years ago. Traditional theory 
states that the chief and his staff are to be considered as one integrated 
unit. This theory is being substantiated in practice and today is being 
expanded to include the concepts of associate chiefs and joint responsibility 
and authority. 

The management oligarchy concept has several major advantages: (1) it 

recognizes that no single person can adequately plan and control the activi- 
ties of a complex business; (2) it recognizes that the so-called line and 
staff assistants have a valuable contribution to make toward achieving basic 
objectives; (3) it multiplies the awareness of each member of the team by 
allowing him close contact with a group of men, each of whom has special 
complementary talents and each of whom is required to act as president in 
his assigned field; (4) it precipitates the abandonment of a parochial view 
on the part of each member; and (5) "... the equality of the team members 
as partners in decision — an attribute they share by definition — ^may be under- 
scored and projected in the rest of the organization . . . 

Some writers see the change as inevitable with the growth of modern 
organizations notwithstanding the logic which applies today: 

^^^See Daniel, ibid . , pp. 75-77. 

l^^Danlel, ibid . , p. 77. See also Stieglitz and danger, op. cit .> 

p. 27. 


. . • The top will not only be released to think; it will be forced to 
think. We doubt that many large companies in the 1980 ’s will be able 
to survive for even a decade without major changes in products, methods, 
or internal organization .... We might expect more impersonal, problem- 
oriented behavior at the top, with less emphasis on loyalty to the firm 
and more on relatively rational concern with solving difficult problems 
.... We surmise that the ”group think” which is frightening some 
people today will be a commonplace in top management of the future. 

Another writer sees a complete separation of staff assistant roles and 

specialty roles: 

. . . The team members cannot function successfully if its members are 
cast in the self-conflicting roles of advocates one day and judges the 
next. Hence it is doubtful that team members will ever be able to 
operate divisions or manage staff departments successfully. Ideally 
they should wear one hat and fill one role — a corporate one.H7 

A New Road to the ”Top” . — A member of a future top management team 

will have to possess more of the "other-directed” traits described by Porter 

( Page 44). Ironically these are the traits now associated with staff men: 

. . . Compared with the one-man chief, who is usually picked for his 
leadership abilities and personal dynamism, and often for his entre- 
preneurial talents, members of the top-management team must be less 
aggressive, less individualistic, and less arbitrary .... Though the 
team member must be apolitical and unafraid to express his views boldly 
and positively, he must also be capable of subordinating himself to the 
team’s will if his views on a particular subject are rejected. ^^8 

\^ile ”... moving up through the line will become increasingly unlikely 
staff men also suffer from a limited perspective. But since some staff 
specialists such as management engineers have had to pursue a relatively 
detached and objective approach to the organization as a whole, they are con- 
sequently better fitted for top management positions than are line executives 
whose orientation is typically rather narrbwly directed and who have built 

^^%arold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler, ^’Management in the 
1980’s.” Harvard Business Review , November-December , 1958, pp. 46-47. 

^^^Daniel, op . cit ., p. 77. 

^^^Ibid., p. 76. 

^^^Leavitt and Whisler, op. cit ., p. 47. 


up strong allegiances to the operational functional specialty or specialties 
with which they have been associated • 

Two authors are of the opinion that both line men and staff men are 
too prejudiced for succession to the management oligarchy and predict that 
training for these positions will be taken over by universities, with on-the- 
job training done at higher levels in the organization through such positions 
as that of assistant to a senior executive. 

A New Dual Ladder ? — If functional specialists are too prejudicially 
oriented to narrow functions and points of view, what is their future with 
regard to maturity and self-fulfillment in their own organizations? 

Some writers think that the rapid expansion of information technology 
being witnessed today will force a split in middle management: the greater 

portion will shrink and sink into a more highly programmed state; and the 

smaller portion will proliferate and rise to the environs of the top manage- 

raent oligarchy. 

The opportunities available in the '*teara at the top** may not be as 
limited as it may appear. Another author sees the likelihood of the emer- 
gence of a ’’super staff** to serve the **executive office** — a staff groomed and 
trained to possess a broad perspective and to serve as training ground for 

membership in the plural executive. ^^3 

This leaves unanswered the question regarding the future for func- 
tional specialists. To the extent that their work does in fact become highly 

120xnterview with Carl Clewlow, management consultant with Arthur 
Young and Company, Washington, D. C., on March 16, 1966. 

121see Leavitt and Whisler, o p. cit ., p. 47. 

^^2xbid. , p. 45, 

^^^Daniel, op . cit . , p. 81. 


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programmed, automation may well be an easier and more appropriate solution* 
Specialization would tend to decline in the process functions and proliferate 
in the super staff — programming — areas. Indications are that the human being 
does not ’^program” passively. If, on the other hand, the demand for func- 
tional specialists in the operating areas continues to increase along with 
super staffs and management oligarchies, some duality of career opportunities 
will have to be established. 

Summary Analysis 

The trend in the current literature is away from the traditional 
theories and ’’principles** of organization and management. In general, there 
appears currently to be: 

Greater emphasis on: 

Than on : 

interdependence in organization 

either dependence or independence; 

cooperative systems 

execution through hierarchical 


chain of command; 

understanding of values 

attempted conversion or changes 
in values; 

changing the organization 

changing the people in the organi- 

spheres of influence 

lines of authority; 




Individuals ; 

group incentives 

individual incentives; 

authority dictated by roles 

roles dictated by authority; 

what people do 

what position they are in; 

cooperation and productivity 

productivity only; 



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Greater emphasis on ; 
mutual respect 
Theory Y 

a dynamic equilibrium of 
status and function 

Than on ; 

Theory X 

formal definition of specification 
of interdependence; and 
status or function 

There is a growing disparity between line-and-staff theory and what 
is actually observed in organizations. Almost invariably line-and-staff is 
discussed in conjunction with the "formal" organization, but in order to 
describe much of what actually goes on in organizations it is necessary to 
speak also in teirms of the "informal" organization. 

Some corporations are attempting to define their formal organizations 
in greater compatibility with the informal aspects observed. Thus, functional 
authority among specialists is being formally recognized and concepts such as 
that of "functional teamwork" are altering the traditional model. 

The term "staff" is becoming less-meaningfully associated with 
functional specialists than with higher-level assistant positions. The staff 
assistants, however, are being recognized as members of the authority- 
possessing, policy-making, decision-making, executive management team. A 
complementary phenomenon is the Increasing recognition of the fiction rather 
than the function of the single chief executive. Not only is the synergistic 
potential of small "informal" work groups being weighed carefully, but there 
are increasing pressures for the group, or "associate chief" approach to top 
management. There are indications, in other words, that the moving equilib- 
rium between the depth of the hierarchy and the width of the span of control 
has bumped into a "full-employment" or maximim-usefulness limit. A new model 
with additional parameters appears to be necessary for continued growth. 

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The increasing contribution of scientific methods and techniques to 
the art of management is affecting organization structure. As information 
systems become more efficient, some writers foresee decision-making authority 
as becoming more allied x^ith function and ability than with scalar level. 

There will be less opportunity for, and greater resistance to the arbitrary 
exercise of authority based only on hierarchical position. Decisions would 
have to be evaluated in terms of their effects throughout the system. It 
may mean a more highly programmed or structured process in basic functional 
areas. This, in turn, may conflict with job enlargement and specialization. 

In any event, a systems approach will require a broad perspective on the part 
of managers, a perspective not possessed by either line men or staff men 
today. Attempts to follow traditional llne-and-staff ’’principles however, 
have, in general, better equipped today’s staff men for effective participa- 
tion in tomorrow’s organizations than have they the line man. The irony of 
this is that our cultural values have placed the greater emphasis on the 
development of the traits possessed by line men. 

The future for the specialist is not clear. One thing seems clear 
enough, however: concepts of the rational-economic man, the social man, and 

the self-actualizing man (in terms of individual needs and incentives — 
motivation) are giving way to a concept of complex man . Managers of the 
future, regardless of specialty and width of horizon, will have to possess a 
spirit of inquiry and be good diagnosticians with regard to people in organi- 
zations in order to accomplish their tasks. This one capability may be 
difficult to acquire wholly in any school other than that of experience. It 
could serve to counter very effectively the threat to specialists of pro- 
grammed functions. At least one writer (who sees today’s manager being forced 
to look, work, and think "sideways" and to de-emphaslze vertical relationships) 


has said the future — and to some extent the present — will ”... demand a 
different type of specialist, x^ith a broader perspective, with as sharp an 
insight into human and organizational relationships as into mathematical 
and mechanical ones . . . .”124 

Current trends and indications of the future demand a reappraisal of 
attitudes on the part of executives and x7ould-be executives. Victor A. 
Thompson has concluded that mutual recognition of complex interdependence 
among members of organizations will foster adult relationships, ”... and 
the grown-up kindergartens through which we now conduct our affairs will 
pass unregretted from the scene. ”1^5 

l^^William H. Read, ”The Decline of the Hierarchy in Industrial 
Organizations,” B usiness Horizons (Fall, 1965), pp. 71-75. 

125xhompson, loc. cit ., p. 197. 


• - 




The term **line” in line-and-staf f theory denotes a method of dele- 
gating authority in an organization in such a manner that all contributions 
made will be channelled through authorized and specified monitering components 
to insure compatibility with organizational objectives. The term '*staff” 
implies support and is a general label applied to those components of an 
organization which have not been specified as line and which have not been 
formally granted authority with respect to basic organizational objectives. 
Implicit in line-and-staf f theory is that line authority keeps staff contri- 
butions proportionate to all other contributions necessary in achieving 
predetermined objectives, and controls the influence which staff contribu- 
tions have on that achievement. Two general types of staff contributions 
are recognized: those in the form of functional services, sometimes called 

auxiliary line functions, and those in the form of advice and counsel. 

Advice and counsel generally follow two basic channels: from one functional 

area (which contributes relatively indirectly to objectives) to another 
functional area (contributing more directly to objectives); and from hier- 
archically subordinate positions to superordinate positions. 

As scientific and technological advances required increasing removal 
of specific functions from the direct auspices of administrators having line 
authority, the term **staff’* came to have less application to routine process 
functions. The phenomena seemed to be better described as functional 



specialization wherein some functions contributed relatively directly to the 
achievement of basic objectives and other functions contributed less directly. 
The dividing line between direct functions for which line authority was 
delegated and indirect functions for which line authority was withheld thus 
continuously shifted in an arbitrary fashion. Administrators of all func- 
tions needed the necessary authority to perform their tasks, but an arbitrary 
dividing line aggravated the process by which indirect contributions were 
reflected in the accomplished objectives. Some functions came to be consid- 
ered more important than others. Some specialists answered only to 
hierarchical superiors with respect to their contributions; other specialists 
were required to answer not only to hierarchical superiors, but also to 
specialists in the more direct process functions who had been clothed with 
line authority. 

Conflict among specialists resulted. Those with line authority 
sought to defend their arbitrary basis on which the delegation was based. 

Those without line authority challenged the basis of the delegation. Battle 
lines were drawn and a multitude of role-defense rationalizations evolved. 
People began to be labelled and stereotyped as either line or staff. The 
fact that most jobs included a mixture of process functions and advice and 
counsel functions tended to be disregarded. 


Fisch, op. cit ., p. 68, observed, ’*The line-staff concept was first 
applied in a period v/hen product lines were relatively stable, when companies 
manufactured a comparatively homogeneous product line, and when the factory 
was the center of operation .... Whereas the hub of corporate life used to 
be in the one simple factory, today it is in the produce and service mix . . 

. . Indeed, the only way in which any good-size American company may be 
understood is through a complete and thorough examination of its total pro- 
duct line. The product line, of course, is created by research, development, 
and engineering, or by acquisitions or mergers that are studied by the 
finance department. These functions have become the very core of profit and 
loss opportunity for most large companies in the U. S. But research, develop- 
ment, engineering, and finance under the line-staff concept, are classified 
as staff or advisory functions.*’ 



Since specialists clothed with line authority tended to be promoted 
to higher line positions, and other specialists tended to be promoted to 
higher staff — usually staff assistant — positions, line and staff stereotypes 
became ingrained throughout the organization. 

Varied attempts have been made by both sides to lessen the conflict. 
They have met with limited success because most actions taken were designed 
to tolerate a certain amount of conflict and still achieve enough vital 
coordination to accomplish some level of output. Basically line has concen- 
trated on controlling staff influence and staff has concentrated on penetrat- 
ing line’s defenses by various means. 

Since line personnel have been In basic control of organizations 
through the hierarchy, it has paid lip service to cooperation and teamwork 
and has simulated concessions of its authority in such forms as human 
relations programs and emphasis on leadership. 

More recently, steps have been taken to abandon the line-staff concept 
and to realign the organization structure. The line-staff theory assumed 
predetermined objectives. The influence of the staff man on setting 
objectives has been recognized. A realization of a complex system of inter- 
dependence is dawning. 

The apparently natural predisposition of individuals to cooperate in 
small groups is being carefully considered in structural realignment. At- 
tempts are being made to redefine authority on a more palatable and rational 
basis. The legitimacy of authority has evolved from a charismatic basis to a 
legalistic (feudal) basis; from legalistic to traditional; and now is moving 
from a traditional basis to one of ability to contribute. The future in 
large organizations in the United States may reveal the evolvement of an 
organization structure that is less autocratic in nature and more in harmony 

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with concepts of democracy. 


Line and staff have dead and dying meanings in organization theory. 
Their evolution in the beginning was an attempt to make static a dynamic 
phenomenon, that of cooperative organization structure. Line-and-staff 
conflict has centered around specialist activities, but the syndrome has 
enveloped the entire organization structure. The conflict has been a 
manifestation of an invalid theory, of the error of the postulates upon which 
the llne~staff theory is based, and not of a lack of understanding or misap- 
plication of the theory. The better the theory is understood and the more 
accurately it is applied, the greater the conflict is likely to flare. Line- 
staff conflict is a symptom, not a cause. 

It is now being increasingly recognized that each member of an 
organization has an effect, which cannot be completely controlled, on the 
equilibrium of an organizational system. When an additional specialist, for 
example, is added to an existing organization, his marginal contribution 
will tend to relatively equalize with that of all other contributors. In 
the process, achievement of stated objectives may be enhanced, or the 
objectives may be altered to reflect compatibility with a new system equilib- 

The traditional bureaucratic structure is giving way to a structure 
which facilitates cooperation and elicits a genuine sense of personal commit- 
ment by 

1. accommodating a blend of individual goals and organization goals, 

2. providing an atmosphere which reflects a recognition of overlap- 
ping small groups and by providing for purposeful avenues of relationships 
among those groups. 



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3. defining authority as a function of ability to contribute to 
objectives, and by 

4. providing avenues for the effective pursuit and attainment of 
individual need fulfillment in parallel with or identical with those through 
which individual contributions to objectives are made. 

Distinctions among individuals are more likely to be made in the 
future on the basis of small group participation. Distinction among groups 
is likely to be made on the basis of their patterns and frequency of rela- 
tionships with other groups. Stereotyping is unlikely because no two 
individuals and no two groups are likely to fit the same descriptive base. 

The time has arrived for self-fancied line men and self-fancied 
staff men to engage in critical self-analysis; to consider changes in their 
attitudes; to ponder the structure of their personality traits and the bases 
on which they have been developed. Unless they do, the "real world" will 
pass them by and leave them with the old men sitting on the court house la;m 
recounting the battles and experiences of ages past. 



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1. Conflict is a function of disagreement over the reality of interdepend- 

1.1. Lack of agreement about the reality of interdependence arises from 
lack of acceptance of specialties. 

This lack of acceptance results from lack of accreditation of 
specialties, which, in turn, is a function of 

1.1.1. Their newness, or 

1.1.2. The creation of specialties by acts of authority. 

1.2. Lack of agreement about the reality of interdependence is also a 
function of differing perceptions of reality. These differing 
perceptions are a function of position in 

1.2.1. The authority system, 

1.2.2. The status system, and 

1.2.3. The system of person-to-person communication (the group 
system) . 

2. Conflict is a function of the degree of disparity between authority, the 
right to be consulted, and the ability to contribute to goals. This 
disparity arises from 

2.1. Growing dependence upon specialists (a function of the process of 
specialization) while hierarchical role definitions are changing 
more slowly; and 

2.2. The allocation of rights (delegation) in disregard of the needs of 
specialization (acts of sheer authority). 

3. Conflict is a function of the degree of status violation Involved in 

3.1. Status violation results from advancing specialization and conse- 
quent growing interdependence of high- and low-status positions — 
from positional claims to deference, on the one hand, and the fact 
of dependence upon specialists, on the other. 

4. Conflict is made more or less Intense by the relative importance of the 
interdependence to the success of the organization. 

5. Finally, conflict is a function of the lack of shared values and reality 
perceptions (identifications), which, in addition to being a function of 
personalities, are 

5.1. A function of the lack of spontaneity and freedom of communicative 
interaction, which is 

5.1.1. A function of the resistance to penetration from without of 
the principal behavior systems — the authority system, the status 
system, and the technical system (specialization) . 



In short, conflict arises from growing inconsistencies between 
specialist and hierarchical roles. 

Source: Victor A. Thompson, Modern Organization (New York: Alfred A. 

Knopf, 1964), pp. 108-109- 



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♦<■» j^- »«^ • 44;*A ,I5><.5® 


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