Contingency Approach to Organizational Behavior

by Heather Skyler - Updated October 18, 2018
Young Business People

Almost every organization has its own approach to organizational behavior and management. Some management styles are based on individual personalities and traits. Others are based on leadership style or a particular set of guidelines and rules. And some corporations may be too new to have firmly settled on a theory of management or a specific approach. One approach to organizational behavior is the contingency approach. Like any theory or approach, it has positives and negatives. To determine if it's a good fit for a particular organization, consider how it works and the benefits it can offer a company.

What Is the Contingency Approach?

Sometimes called the situational approach, the contingency approach is based on the idea that methods or behaviors that work effectively in one situation, may fail in another. One size does not fit all when it comes to the contingency approach. Results differ for the simple reason that situations differ. This may sound obvious, but the idea is to analyze why one approach yielded a particular result. Then the manager is tasked with identifying which method will work best in every situation.

Why the Contingency Approach Works

The strength of the contingency approach can be found in the analysis it fosters. It encourages an examination of each organizational behavior or situation before taking action. And it also discourages the habitual practice of making universal assumptions about methods and people. It's easy for an organization to get set in a particular pattern or method of management. This approach helps encourage examination and possibly a healthy shake-up of the status quo.

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A History of the Contingency Approach

Created in the mid-1960s by Fred Fiedler, a scientist who studied leadership characteristics, The Fiedler Contingency Model states that there is no one best style of leadership. A leader's effectiveness is based on the situation. Fiedler looked at two key factors to develop this contingency perspective: leadership style and what he called situational favorableness or situational control.

Determining the leadership style is the first step when using the model. Fiedler developed a scale to measure leadership style called the Least-Preferred Co-Worker or LPC scale.

The LPC Scale

The LPC scale asks an employee to consider a person who they have enjoyed working with the least; this can be a person in your workplace or someone you've met in education or training.

You then rate how you feel about this person by ranking their qualities. Do you find this person relaxed or tense? Friendly or unfriendly? Hostile or supportive? The final score on the LPC scale determines whether your leadership style is relationship-oriented or task-oriented.

Situational Leadership

After the LPC score is determined, you must analyze the situational favorableness of the particular situation. Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Are leader-employee relations bad or good?
  • Is the task you're doing structured or unstructured?
  • Is your power over your team solid or weak?

Once you've answered these key questions, you can apply your leadership style to the situation at hand.

Disadvantages of the Contingency Model

The contingency model requires you to consider your natural leadership style and the situations where your particular style will be most effective. Leaders are either task-focused or relationship-focused. Once you understand your style, you can apply it to situations in which that style is most effective.

The disadvantages of the contingency model are that it doesn't allow for leadership flexibility, and the LPC score might not reveal a style that makes sense to you. As with all organizational models and theories, it's important to try them out and find the best fit.

About the Author

Heather Skyler is a journalist and novelist who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek.com, The New York Times and SKY magazine.

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