Mary Follett Parker Theory Human Case Study
Mary Parker Follett: A Public Scholar “Far Ahead of Her Time”
By Deborah Bassett
Who was Mary Follett?
One of the key historical figures in the field of organizational communication, Mary Parker Follett spent her life working in poor neighborhoods, serving on minimum wage boards, and aiding suffrage organizations. A teacher, an author, a scholar, a feminist, and a public servant, Follett has been called a “social anthropologist”, “far ahead of her time”, and a “pioneer of integrative negotiations”.
Sociologist Charles A. Ellwood, one of Follett’s contemporaries, wrote that Follett was “easily the foremost woman thinker along social and political lines of our time, and perhaps one of the most philosophical thinkers in the field of social theory of all time—a fact which should be highly gratifying to all advocates of the emancipation and education of women as well as to all who are seeking to further the progress of the social sciences.”
Clearly, Follett was not only respected by her contemporaries for her remarkable theoretical contributions, but recognized even then for the impact and reach her ideas were sure to have in future generations of scholars. Ellwood would be gratified to know that Follett’s contributions have, indeed, endured the passage of time, and that his characterization of her as one of the most significant figures in the field has proven correct.
Considered by her contemporaries to be the “the primary architect of the center movement”, Follett was also a national leader in the community centers movement in . Although, until recently, she has seldom been recognized for her enormous contributions to conflict resolution and management theory, Follett was responsible for the development of many key concepts in the field that have become part of our contemporary lexicon, e.g., seeking a “win-win” solution to conflict. Her work on seeking integrated solutions has been called “one of the acts of human genius and a contribution to humanity”.
Born in in 1868, Follett was one of only a handful of women during the late 1800s to attend university, which she did through Harvard’s “back door” for female students, the Harvard Annex (now ). While studying with Harvard professors, Follett completed a thesis for a history seminar on the Speaker of the House of Representatives, combining a thorough historical analysis with interviews to provide an analysis of politics and power that is “still considered one of the most insightful and well-reasoned ever written about the U.S. Congress”. Follett’s undergraduate thesis became her first published manuscript in 1896, receiving radiant reviews from critics and acknowledged as a scholarly work of the highest quality.
Choosing the Life of a Public Scholar
Although Follett clearly demonstrated success as a scholar, she did not choose to pursue a graduate degree or a scholarly life in the academy. Instead, at the age of 22, Follett began working in poor, immigrant neighborhoods outside of . In doing so, she participated in a larger settlement movement whose aim was to promote positive social change through the development of community centers, which provided child care, classes and clubs to community residents.
Although Follett did not choose to pursue a life as a traditional scholar, she can be accurately considered a scholar, nonetheless, based on her status as a scholar among her contemporaries, her approach to her public work and scholarship, and the lasting significance of her theoretical contributions to the field of organizational communication. Follett applied her training as a young scholar to the development of theories that she refined during her years of community work. Conversely, her public work directly informed her later scholarship. It is this reciprocal relationship of scholarship and public work that distinguishes Follett as a public scholar rather than simply a public worker.
Certainly much of Follett’s community work would be considered activism today. One of her many projects involved the founding of a debating club “in which young men” learned the skills to “debate contemporary political issues” and had the opportunity to engage in debate with each other. Follett strongly believed in empowerment through civic education, by which community members could learn how to become active citizens in their own communities. She wrote: “Democracy is faith in humanity, not faith in ‘poor’ people or ‘ignorant’ people, but faith in every living soul.”
Follett’s philosophy of organizational communication was based on her own lived experience working with the community centers project and serving on minimum wage boards in . Her approach to the community centers movement included direct and frequent interaction with the community members and was grounded in a conviction that people were best able to govern themselves once they were given the skills to do so. During a graduate seminar at Harvard in 1927, Follett told the students, “I have simply for about 25 years been watching boards and groups and have decided from that watching on these principles of interacting, unifying and emerging. . . .I am giving my experience. I am not giving philosophy out of a book.”
Follett’s Published Books
In addition to “The Speaker of the House of Representatives,” Follett wrote two more books during her lifetime, both reviewed favorably in the popular press. Follett’s second book, “The New State: Group Organization, The Solution for Popular Government” (1918) addressed issues of democracy, conflict, and diversity. This book came on the heels of Follett’s experience with the neighborhood project and has been described by Benjamin Barber as “an American classic of participatory democracy.”
Follett wrote her third and final book, “Creative Experience”, in 1924 after having had ample opportunity to refine her ideas on conflict resolution and small group management through her community work. The ideas Follett expounds upon in her third book have been described as “some of the best advice in the whole literature on management today.”
Conflict, Diversity and Integrated Solutions
Two of Follett’s most powerful, and frequently cited, ideas are her conception of conflict as diversity and her call for the integrated solution to replace compromise as a solution. Follett defined conflict as “difference”, not a negative occurrence to be avoided, but simply the interacting of different desires:
“What people often mean by getting rid of conflict,” she wrote in “Creative Experience,” “is getting rid of diversity
. . . . We must face life as it is and understand that diversity is its most essential feature. . . .It is possible to conceive conflict as . . . a normal process by which socially valuable differences register themselves for the enrichment of all concerned”.
Follett recognized three approaches to resolving conflict: 1. Domination that would ensure a victory of one side at the expense of the other, 2. Compromise, in which both sides relinquished part of their original interests, and 3. Integration, in which a new, and better, solution was developed that preserved the original interests of both sides. Follett called for an integrated solution for resolving conflict, in which both parties emerged as “winners”: “We should never allow ourselves to be bullied by an ‘either-or.’ There is often the possibility of something better than either of two given alternatives.”
Follett was known for her engaging and clear examples to illustrate her theories and the example she gave for the success of the integrated solution was no exception:
In the Harvard Library one day, in one of the smaller rooms, someone wanted the window open. I wanted it shut. We opened the window in the next room, where no one was sitting. This was not a compromise because there was no curtailing of desire; we both got what we really wanted. For I did not want a closed room, I simply did not want the north wind to blow directly on me; likewise the other occupant did not want that particular window open, he merely wanted more air in the room.
According to Follett, seeking an integrated solution involves bringing differences “into the open” and breaking up each side’s demand into smaller parts. In order to break up one’s demands, Follett suggested that “symbols” must be examined. She gave an example of a friend who wanted to go to but did not have the money to do so. By examining what “going to ” symbolized for her friend, Follett presented a solution that did not involve actually going to but still met the true needs of her friend. Thus, the “real demand, which is being obscured by miscellaneous minor claims or by ineffective presentation” must be discovered in order to be resolved effectively.
Follett developed and employed her ideas throughout her life. In “The New State” she wrote, “There is no wall between my private life and my public life.” She learned from her life experiences and used those experiences to develop ideas that were astoundingly simple, yet progressive in their vision and profoundly effective. She shared these ideas not only at graduate seminars and business meetings, but also with the public outside the academy through her community work and her books.
Follett’s Work Resurfaces
Follett’s ideas of integrative negotiation have enjoyed resurgence in the field of conflict resolution since the 1960s, with the publication of Walton and McKersie’s “A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiation: An Analysis of a Social Interaction System”. Although the authors credited Follett, subsequent scholars in conflict resolution cited Walton and McKersie for Follett’s ideas rather than Follett herself.
In 1978 Jeffrey Eiseman drew upon Follett’s work with his work on “Reconciling Incompatible Positions” and in 1981, Fisher and Ury credited Follett in “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”, which became a primer in dispute resolution and may have stirred interest in Follett and her work among scholars. In the 1980s and 1990s, Follett’s work resurfaced in management books published in popular press. However, although her ideas were rediscovered, her name was, once again, not.
Perhaps the 2003 publication of the only biography of Follett to date, as well as the acknowledgement of her contributions in the work of contemporary scholars, will finally grant Follett the recognition she so richly deserves.
Contemporary Scholars and Follett
Gerry Philipsen, Albie Davis, and John Child are three contemporary scholars who are integrating Follett’s ideas into their own research. Each of these scholars has implemented Follett’s work in their own work as scholars and professionals.
Gerry Philipsen, Professor of Communication at the , said that Follett’s work has influenced both his teaching and his research. “I have used her in my teaching in two ways,” he said, the first, in his class in Communication, Conflict and Cooperation, where he uses Follett’s definition and theory of conflict to lay out “a basic principle that others have extended” (e.g., Jeffrey Eiseman and Norman Maier, in their respective works). The second way Philipsen uses Follett’s work in his teaching is by teaching Follett’s ideas of the constructive use of conflict and the integrated solution (as described earlier) in his classes in group discussion.
In addition to implementing Follett’s ideas directly into his teaching, Philipsen has also found Follett’s work relevant to his research. His current research includes the history of the development of group discussion as an academic subject, in which he found Follett to be “an extremely important figure,” along with Dewey and Schoefield, in the small group discussion movement.
“She [Follett] becomes important for me in the history of this academic subject,” Philipsen said, adding that he also includes her as a subject for his research on the history of group discussion.
Follett’s influence is evident in Philipsen’s original framework for predicting the likelihood of reaching an agreement; that is, that the likelihood of two parties reaching an agreement is equal to the degree of effective communication multiplied by the degree of motivation to cooperate among the parties (LA = EC x M). One of the seven factors that Philipsen includes as contributing to effective communication is dimensionalizing, a concept he says is based largely on Follett’s principle of integration. To dimensionalize, Philipsen explained, is to “express a more sharply focused evaluation along a multi-valued scale of judgment,” as can be seen for example, with the familiar Likert scale. Dimensionalizing enables someone to bring his or her true needs into focus, and by doing so, allows negotiating parties to understand each other more effectively and thus increase their likelihood of achieving resolution.
Another one of Follett’s core ideas that Philipsen integrates into his teaching and research is “the use of communication to unlock or enable the power of the group to draw from the good ideas of the many and use them for the common task.” He also plans to include Follett’s ideas about facts in his future research.
Philipsen said that although “most contemporary work on conflict is indebted to [Follett]”, it is “typically unacknowledged.” Although it is unclear why her contributions have largely been overlooked, Philipsen believes that it may be because Follett was a female scholar at a time when women’s academic contributions were neither encouraged nor acknowledged.
Albie Davis, Director of Mediation, District Court, Trial Court of the , has written frequently on Follett. “She has taught me to wonder, ‘What are others thinking?Where does my thinking mesh with theirs?Where does it differ? How might we integrate the thinking of all to give birth to new ideas?’” has said. 
Although Davis herself did not become aware of Follett’s work until 1989, “after a decade of activity in this field”, she
considers Follett’s work indispensable to the field of conflict resolution. She described Follett’s ideas as “stimulating and
significant” and suggested that those in the field needed “to become reacquainted” with Follett’s work:“First of all, her ideas remain fresh and visionary—she is still ahead of her times. . . . Secondly, her ideas deserve to be read in full. . . . Lastly, both women and men in the profession should take pride in the fact that a woman originally articulated the integrative approach to negotiation.”  In “Follett on Facts,” wrote that Follett’s “pragmatic and detailedanalysis of facts still contains lessons for today’s students of conflict resolution.”John Child, a management scholar, has integrated Follett’s ideas on constructive conflict into his recommendationsfor management strategies. In a series of 35 case studies of IT introduction in European businesses, Child concluded that a participatory approach to problem-solving, as described by Follett, was necessary to achieving effective IT implementation. In a similar study of multi-national business ventures in and , Child and his associates again concluded that Follett’sapproach of constructive conflict was essential to the successful integration of the foreign investors with the local companies.
“No power under the sun can put her out”
Mary Parker Follett truly was a public scholar well before her time. Follett chose a life of service to her community over the ivy walls of the academy. She used methods that were qualitative, based on interviews and direct experience, over the preferred quantitative methods of her day. Her approach to conflict embraced diversity and encouraged a holistic approach that involved all parties working together rather than groups hiring experts and working against each other in competition. Follett biographer Joan Tonn has speculated that one of the reasons for Follett’s obscurity after her death was that her ideas were simply ahead of the times in which Follett lived. In fact, many scholars (e.g., Benjamin Barber, Albie Davis, Gerry Philipsen, and John Child) characterize Follett’s work as just as relevant and forward-thinking in 2004 as it was during her lifetime. Today her work is used in many disciplines and around the world. Simply put, her work has endured.
Public scholarship has been defined as scholarship that “directly engage[s] the world beyond the academy”, assessed in part by its “impact and reach”. Certainly, Follett’s work in organizational communication directly engaged the world beyond the academy both during her lifetime and in the present day. The “impact and reach” of Follett’s work is evident in her work with the community centers movement, which changed the national social landscape, and the adoption of her ideas across disciplines, in public and academic arenas around the world. Follett held a passionate conviction that women were inseparable from politics: “Woman is in politics; no power under the sun can put her out.” Her life certainly upheld that conviction. Some 70 years after her death, Follett’s ideas continue to shine brightly, retaining their “clarity, force, and practical relevance” for both the academy and the community at large.
 John Child, “Follett: Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995) p. 94.
 Quoted in Mary Parker Follett, “Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995), p. 86.
 Mary Parker Follett, “Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995), p. 86.
 Mary Parker Follett, “Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995), p. 69.
 Mary Parker Follett, “Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995), p. 73.
 Mary Parker Follett, “Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995), p. 79.
 Such as John Child, who acknowledges that since discovering her work in 1967, “Follett has influenced almost every facet of my teaching and research”. “Follett: Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995) p. 88.
 Alfred D. Schoefield was the first scholar in the field of communication to write about group discussion. Incidentally, he and his wife were close friends of Follett’s.
 For a discussion of Follett’s ideas about facts see Albie M. Davis, “Follett on facts: Timely advice from an ADR pioneer,” Negotiation Journal, (April 1991), pp. 131-138.
Ad Hoc Committee on Public Scholarship, (May 2004), “Draft statement on public scholarship,” Department of Communication, , .
 John Child, “Follett: Constructive conflict,” Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of management: A celebration of writings from the 1920s, (, 1995), p. 88.
|Mary Parker Follett|
|Born||(1868-09-03)September 3, 1868|
Quincy, Massachusetts, US
|Died||December 18, 1933(1933-12-18) (aged 65)|
Boston, Massachusetts, US
|Occupation||Social worker turned management theorist and consultant, political theorist, philosopher, and writer|
|Subject||Management and Politics and Philosophy|
Mary Parker Follett (September 3, 1868 – December 18, 1933) was an American social worker, management consultant, philosopher, and pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. Along with Lillian Gilbreth, Mary Parker Follett was one of two great women management gurus in the early days of classical management theory. Follett is known to be "Mother of Modern Management".
Follett was born in 1868 in Quincy, Massachusetts to a wealthy Quaker family. Her family was composed of Charles Allen Follett, a machinist in a local shoe factory, and Elizabeth Curtis (née Baxter) Follett, respectively of English-Scottish and Welsh descent, and a younger brother. Follett attended Thayer Academy, a collegiate preparatory day school in Braintree, while spending much of her free time caring for her disabled mother. In September 1885 she enrolled in Anna Ticknor's Society to Encourage Studies at Home.
From 1890-91, she studied at the University of Cambridge and then moved to study at Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women in Cambridge (later known as Radcliffe College). For the next 6 years Follett attended the university on an irregular basis eventually graduating summa cum laude in 1898. Her Radcliffe thesis, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, was published in 1896. She would go on to apply to Harvard but would be denied entrance to the university on the basis that she was a woman.
Over the next three decades, she published many works. She was one of the first women ever invited to address the London School of Economics, where she spoke on cutting-edge management issues. She also distinguished herself in the field of management by being sought out by PresidentTheodore Roosevelt as his personal consultant on managing not-for-profit, non-governmental, and voluntary organizations.
Ideas and influences
Follett’s educational and work background would shape and influence her future theories and writings. One of her earliest career positions would see her working as a social worker in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston from 1900-08. During this period her interactions with the Roxbury community would lead her to realize the importance of community spaces as areas to meet and socialize.
Her experience in developing vocational guidance and evening programs in public schools, she would develop what would be her life's work and her theories in group dynamics. "The New State", her second writing published in 1918, would evolve from a report into her second published work. This publication would go on to lay the foundational theories for her most important theories and become a major center of attention of her career. 
By participating in local recreational, educational, and advocacy groups Parker developed her ideals of participatory democracy and her ideals of society as "integrative." Observing people led Parker to believe that the boundaries of a person's identities are porous, effected by the society around them, and that society in turn is effected by the identities of the people within it. Thus the self and the society, according to Parker, are in a cycle in which they constantly help to create one another.
In her capacity as a management theorist, Follett pioneered the understanding of lateral processes within hierarchical organizations (which recognition led directly to the formation of matrix-style organizations, the first of which was DuPont, in the 1920s), the importance of informal processes within organizations, and the idea of the "authority of expertise"—which really served to modify the typology of authority developed by her German contemporary, Max Weber, who broke authority down into three separate categories: rational-legal, traditional and charismatic.
She recognized the holistic nature of community and advanced the idea of "reciprocal relationships" in understanding the dynamic aspects of the individual in relationship to others. Follett advocated the principle of what she termed "integration," or noncoercive power-sharing based on the use of her concept of "power with" rather than "power over."
Follett contributed greatly to the win-win philosophy, coining the term in her work with groups. Her approach to conflict was to embrace it as a mechanism of diversity and an opportunity to develop integrated solutions rather than simply compromising. She was also a pioneer in the establishment of community centers.
Follett's unique background often led her to take positions on major issues that mediated between the conventional viewpoints. In The New State, she took the position on societal change that:
It is a mistake to think that social progress is to depend upon anything happening to the working people: some say that they are to be given more material goods and all will be well; some think they are to be given more "education" and the world will be saved. It is equally a mistake to think that what we need is the conversion to "unselfishness" of the capitalist class." 
Similarly her position on the Labor Movement was:
Neither working for someone nor paying someone's wages ought to give you power over them." 
Ann Pawelec Deschenes (1998) found obscure reference pointing to Mary Parker Follett having coined the term "transformational leadership". She quotes from Edith A. Rusch's The Social Construction of Leadership: From Theory to Praxis (1991):
... writings and lectures by Mary Parker Follett from as early as 1927 contained references to transformational leadership, the interrelationship of leadership and followership, and the power of collective goals of leaders and followers (p. 8).
Burns makes no reference to Follett in Leadership. However, Rusch was able to trace what appear to be parallel themes in the works of Burns and Follett. Rusch presents direct references in Appendix A. Pawelec (Deschenes) found further parallels of transformational discourse between Follett's (1947, 1987) work and Burns (1978).
From The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett (p 247): "Moreover, we have now to lay somewhat less stress than formerly on this matter of the leader influencing his group because we now think of the leader as also being influenced by his group."
Although most of Follett's writings remained known in very limited circles until republished at the beginning of this[which?] decade, her ideas gained great influence after Chester Barnard, a New Jersey Bell executive and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, published his seminal treatment of executive management, The Functions of the Executive. Barnard's work, which stressed the critical role of "soft" factors such as "communication" and "informal processes" in organizations, owed a telling yet undisclosed debt to Follett's thought and writings. Her emphasis on such soft factors paralleled the work of Elton Mayo at Western Electric's Hawthorne Plant, and presaged the rise of the Human Relations Movement, as developed through the work of such figures as Abraham Maslow, Kurt Lewin, Douglas McGregor, Chris Argyris and other breakthrough contributors to the field of Organizational Development or "OD".
Her influence can also be seen indirectly perhaps in the work of Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, Lee Bradford, Edie Seashore and others at the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine, where T-Group methodology was first theorized and developed. Follett's work set the stage for a generation of effective, progressive changes in management philosophy, style and practice, revolutionizing and humanizing the American workplace, and allowing the fulfillment of Douglas McGregor's management vision—quantum leaps in productivity effected through the humanization of the workplace.
Later life and legacy
Follett died on December 18, 1933, in Boston, Massachusetts. After her death her work and ideas would disappear from American organizational and management circles of the time but would continue to gain followership in Great Britain. In the last decades her work has been rediscovered. During the 1960s her ideas would re-emerge in Japan where management thinkers would apply her theories to business.
Management theorist Warren Bennis said of Follett's work, "Just about everything written today about leadership and organizations comes from Mary Parker Follett's writings and lectures."
Her texts outline modern ideas under participatory management: decentralized decisions, integrating role of groups, and competition authority. Follett managed to reduce the gap between the mechanistic approach and contemporary approach that emphasizes human behavior.
Her advocacy for schools to be used after hours for recreational and vocational use affected the Boston area where schools opened their doors after hours for such uses, and community centers were built where schools were not located, a revolutionary concept during the 20th century. Her experience working in this area taught her a lot about notions of democracy and led her to write more for a wider audience – particularly the business world. She believed that good practice amongst business people would have a significant impact on other institutions.
She authored a number of books and numerous essays, articles and speeches on democracy, human relations, political philosophy, psychology, organizational behavior and conflict resolution.
- The Speaker of the House of Representatives(1896)
- The New State (1918)
- Creative Experience (1924) 
- Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett (1942) (a collection of speeches and short articles was published posthumously) 
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