Luther Halsey Gulick was born on the 4th of December, 1865 at Honolulu (Infed). The first fifteen years of his life Gulick spent away from Hawaii, traveling around the world with his parents – Congregationalist missionaries. In 1884 he began studying physical education at Oberlin, but had to quit due to serious health complications. He resumed his education at Cambridge School of Physical Training in 1885. Throughout his life, he was working to improve the quality of physical education (primarily, its organizational aspects).
He is considered to be the author and the inventor of basketball (Infed). His administrative skills were excellently well realized in his being the secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education. Gulick is the author of numerous organizational initiatives. He was among the founders of several physical education associations (Infed). Nevertheless, his name is mostly associated with the concept of “the span of control”, so widely used in the present day theory of organization.
Gulick’s commitment to team work and collective values was the foundation of his famous theory of organization. Gulick used the span of control as the central measure of the organization’s efficiency in the long run. Gulick’s theory of organization is unique in a sense that it determines and analyzes the three critical variables related to span of control in organizations. Diversification of function, time (stability), and size and space should be taken as the three critical determinants of effective or ineffective span of control (Gulick 90).
Whether organizations are characterized by a number of diverse functions; whether organizations are stable over time; or whether organizations work across a number of buildings will determine the need for reducing (or expanding) the span of control. In Gulick’s view, “the failure to attach sufficient importance to these variables has served to limit the scientific validity of statements which have been made that one man can supervise but three, or five, or eight, or twelve immediate subordinates” (91). Gulick’s works expand beyond the boundaries of physical education.
Although he is well known for his Physical Measurements and How They Are Used (1889) and The Dynamics of Manhood (1918), his Notes on the Theory of Organization (1937) is actually the culmination and the turning point in Gulick’s scientific career. Gulick was devoted to an idea of systematic distribution of knowledge in organizations; as a result, his administrative theories are still relevant in all areas of organizational performance and control. Gulick’s concept of span of control is extremely relevant in contemporary business environment.
First, by expanding the span of control organizations can effectively reduce the amount of administrative personnel. Second, spans of control determine and impact the quality and the type of managerial decisions and styles. The wider the span of control, the more autonomy subordinates acquire in their daily performance within organizations (Gulick 84). Finally, organizations rarely operate around one span of control; rather, multiple spans of control are expected to ensure the efficiency and reasonable distribution of all organizational initiatives.
Gulick was the first to differentiate administration from scientific management; he viewed function, and not scientific structuralism as the basis for successful organizational performance. In this context, Gulick’s works deserve attention and should be reviewed through the prism of contemporary organizational environments.
Gulick, L. “Notes on the Theory of Organization. ” In L. Gulick and L. Urwick, Papers on the Science of Administration, New York: Institute of Public Administration, 1937. Infed. “Luther Halsey Gulick. ” 2004. Infed. 31 January 2009. http://www. infed. org/thinkers/gulick. htm