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Public Policy and Administration: The Theories of Departmentalization and Division of Labor

Theories and Theorists

Theories are essential in scholarly studies. It is one reason scholars review the literature to help them understand relevant theories in their field of study. Generally, a theory refers to a group of harmonized constructs aimed at developing a hypothesis and defining relationships between variables. It comes out as an argument, a discussion, or a rationale of the study. It helps in predicting the results of a study (Creswell, 2008). A theory has its proponents known as theorists. Considering the significance of theories in scholarly studies, this paper is aimed at analyzing two theories in the field of public policy and administration (the theory of departmentalization and division of labor). The analysis of these theories is essential to help in familiarizing oneself with the theories and theorists in public policy and administration. This will help in building good theoretical foundations and research approaches.

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Public policy and administration are vital in the organization of government policies and plans. This includes the behaviors of the officials (Milakovich & Gordon, 2008; Stillman, 2009). The purpose of this organization is to manage the conduct of government officials. Government policies implementation is housed by public policy and administration (Dubois & Fattore, 2009). In addition, it is an academic discipline concerned with any study geared toward the implementation of the mentioned policies, as it prepares government officials for their work (Menzel, White, & Stillman, 2011). Like any other field, public policy and administration have their theories, which can be used in scholarly studies. In this paper, the theories in public policy and administration that will be analyzed are the theories of departmentalization and division of labor (Denhardt, 2008).

Theory one – Gulick (1937) Theory of Departmentalization

Division of labor in workplaces requires the grouping of specialists in departments to enhance coordination. Departmentalization is now considered a vital principle in management (Nigel, 2013). Luther Gulick established the theory of departmentalization. He established this principle based on addressing the problem of creating departments and dividing work in organizations. In the argument, Gulick had four bases, which include: purpose, place, persons, and process (referred to as the 4Ps of Gulick).

Departments can be created based on purpose and process. The purpose is known to be first in departmentalization. Work may be shared based on major functions or purposes. Creating departments requires the identification of a major purpose. Such departments have self–control. However, they make lack an opportunity of dividing work. Using processor skills, departments are established by the skills available. This encourages the use of labor and machinery, which increases productivity. However, it can lead to purposeless division in the establishment of departments.

In this theory, persons and places can be used in the departmentalization process. In applying this basis, departments are created based on the clientele being served. This basis makes the utilization of different works in a large office. In addition, the organization maximizes the use of labor and machinery. Unfortunately, this basis can lead to purposeless labor sharing. The place can also be used in the departmentalization process. Organizations of departments in certain territories are aimed at managing the policies assigned to them in that particular region.

In summary, this theory provides four bases to be used in the development of departments. The bases have proved to be suitable in various circumstances. However, these bases are incompatible. In addition, they overlap between themselves.

Theory two – Gulick (1937) Division of Labor

The proponent of this theory is Gulick. In this theory, Gulick believes that for effectiveness and efficiency in an organization, dividing and entrusting work to people is suitable. To Gulick, labor division is the basic principle of an organization and also the reason for its existence. Large organizations require many men and women to conduct their activities. This implies that large organizations should secure the best results by dividing work between men and women. This is the best way of maximizing results in an environment in which many men and women are working together. This idea is supported by the belief that man came up with organizations when he failed to work single handily. Therefore, the man was forced to share work, an indicator of the beginning of organizations.

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Men have different skills, efficiency, and attitudes, which makes it possible for the process of dividing labor. This means that it is difficult for one person to work in two places at the same time. In the context of increasing knowledge, it is inevitable to assign people different types of work in the increasing division of labor process. Therefore, division of labor increases productivity and enhances performance at the workplace.

To this end, Gulick believes that efficiency and performance in an organization are possible through the division of labor. This increases productivity, especially in organizations with a high number of men and women. Unfortunately, division of labor is limited with the amount of work, physical, custom, technology, and organic challenges. In addition, division of labor is possible when people with relevant skills are available. Division of labor should go hand in hand with the integration of different specializations for it to be effective.

Relationship between theory one and two

The first theory is the principle of Departmentalization, while the second theory is the division of labor theory. Precisely, the former theory believes in the four bases of developing departments in organizations. The later theory suggests the necessity of labor division in organizations. These two theories are related in different ways. First, both theories were put forward by Gulick, a Japanese nationalist. He immensely contributed to the writing of papers reflecting on the science of administration.

These two theories of public administration are also known as the principles of administration (Jeong Chun Hai @Ibrahim, 2007). Like other principles of administration, these theories are criticized for not forming a clear empirical reality, which can be followed. In addition, some scholars like Simon believe that administrative situations are well described by these theories. However, they do not show consistency theoretically.

Despite the criticism, these two theories have remained relevant in today’s world. Organizations have grouped workers in various departments and there is also the division of labor. Workers in different environments are entrusted with specific tasks (UN Economic and Social Council, 2006). It is hard for organizations to operate in absence of these theories or principles (Hammond, 1990). Students in colleges and universities studying public policy and administration continue to be taught these theories, which are applicable in the administration world. Interestingly, individuals who oppose these theories have not come up with any relevant alternatives (Denhardt, & Denha, 2009). Lately, theories in administration rely on these theories.


In summary, the theory of departmentalization and division of labor has facilitated the arguments and practice of public administration. Despite the limitations of these theories, they have enhanced operations in organizations. Understating processes in an organization is vital while using these principles because they continue to be applied in different organizations. These theories can be helpful in researches about administration in organizations. Specifically, the theory of departmentalization can help in understanding the effectiveness of departments. Conversely, the theory or principle of labor division can be used in explaining the process of dividing labor and its implications.


Creswell, J. (2008). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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Denhardt, R. (2008). Theories of Public Organization (6th ed.). Boston, MS: Cengage Learning.

Denhardt, R., & Denha, J. (2009). Public Administration: An Action Orientation (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Dubois, H.F.W., & Fattore, G. (2009). Definitions and typologies in public administration research: the case of decentralization. International Journal of Public Administration, 32(8), 704–727.

Gulick, L. (1937). Notes on the theory of organization. In L. Gulick & L. Urwick (Eds.), Papers on the science of administration (pp. 191-195). New York, NY: Institute of Public Administration, Columbia University

Hammond, T. (1990). In Defense of Luther Gulick’s: Notes on the Theory of Organization. Public Administration, 68(2), 143-173.

Jeong, [email protected] (2007). Fundamental of Development Administration. Selangor, Malaysia: Scholar Press.

Menzel, D., White, H., & Stillman, R. (2011). The State of Public Administration: Issues, Challenges and Opportunity. New York, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Milakovich, M.E., & Gordon, G.J. (2008). Public Administration in America (10th ed.). Boston, MS: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.

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Nigel, W. (2013). The Division of Labour under Uncertainty. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 169(2), 253-274.

Stillman, R.J. (2009). Public Administration: Concepts and Cases (9th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

UN Economic and Social Council. (2006, March 27). Definition of basic concepts and terminologies in governance and public administration. Committee of Experts on Public Administration, pp.1-15.

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