Management in the Built Environment


Part 1

Human beings have been building ever since they started settling down as agrarian communities. From the scientifically laid out cities of ancient civilisations like the Indus valley, gigantic Pyramids of Egypt, Rome’s vast network of aqueducts, through to the Middle Ages, the Industrial revolution, and the space-age developments of the twenty first century – history of the evolution of mankind goes hand-in-hand with the development of Built Environment.

The process of building has always been labour intensive. Even building the smallest of structures needs coordinated efforts of labourers to erect the walls brick by brick. Overseeing them is their supervisor or the chief mason. As we move on to bigger buildings this unit of labourers and their supervisor is just one among scores or sometimes hundreds of such units. The chiefs of these units report to their superiors, who in turn report to their higher bosses, and the pyramid eventually rises upwards until it reaches the master builder. This traditional organisational pyramid would have worked very well in historical times, when kings and monarchs were chief patrons of building and there were no external pressures.

But today’s fast paced world poses greater challenges. The pressures to deliver in unrealistic deadlines, stay ahead in the fiercely competitive markets, and still not compromise on the quality of output, thereby maintaining your competitive edge, have never been greater. The only answer to these challenges is the efficient organisation and management of time and resources – both material and human. And since human resources constitute the greatest part in the process of building, an understanding of People and Organisational Management becomes the key to successfully and efficiently channelize human energies and human resources towards achieving the desired goals. As Drucker (1986: 34) also said:

“Business enterprise (or any other institution) has only one true resource: man. It performs by making human resources productive.”

As with the history of building, history of People and Organisational Management also starts when humans first started settling down. Whether it was organising and managing a small family, or a tribe or a community, or managing an empire, human beings have been gathering and developing on the knowledge of organisational management over centuries and millennia. Karloff’s (1993) table entitled “the continuum of management” outlines major managerial contributions of human mind from times as early as 5000 BC (Sumerians’ development of script for record keeping) through to the modern times.

Although many thinkers and philosophers in history have written treatises on organising and managing people – Plato (427-347 BC), Mauryan statesman Chanakya (350-283 BC), Roman general Cato (234-149 BC), Persian scholar Al-Ghazali (1058-1111 AD) to name just a few – Management as a specialised discipline came into the fore only towards the beginning of the Twentieth century.

We shall now look at some of the Management theories as propagated by thinkers and gurus in the past century.

With the advent of Industrial Revolution arose the need for methodical organisation. The economies were fast changing from being predominantly rural agricultural to manufacturing and urban-centric. This asked for careful and calculated specifications of processes and results. In response to this, Frederick Winslow Taylor proposed standardisation of organisational tasks, and the manager’s primary function was to establish the right or the standard way to perform tasks, and choose the most efficient workers for the same. Taylor’s disciples Gilbreth and Gantt took this further and developed their own techniques and scientific ways of management (Drucker 1986). Collectively, this came to be known as the Scientific school of Management (c1890-1940). Henry Fayol added his Process Approach of Planning-Organising-Commanding-Coordinating-Controlling to the Scientific Management theory. Max Weber, through his Bureaucratic Management ideas, further contributed to the Scientific Management theory. He proposed a theory of dividing organisations into hierarchies.

However, a major drawback of the Scientific Management Theories was that they ended up viewing workers as robots and paid little attention to their physical, social and emotional well being. Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments during 1920s, initiated to examine the relationship between lighting conditions and worker efficiency, went on to prove that worker behaviour is not just physiological, but also psychological. This was a significant departure from the Scientific school that had considered productivity as “mechanical” and workers as purely “rational” and “economic” beings. This led organisations to believe their economic prosperity is a direct function of workers’ economic and social prosperity, and laid the foundation of Human Relations school in 1930s (Pindur, Rogers and Kim 1995). Several theories, mostly based on behavioural sciences, were developed by the thinkers of this school, and continue to be developed till date.

The theories developed by Human Relations scholars can also be described as the motivational approach to people and organisational management. The hierarchy of human needs as analysed by A. H. Maslow (in 1950s & 60s) gives a clear understanding of the needs of people at work, and provides a framework to their managers to be able to motivate them (Cole 2004). McGregor’s Theories ‘X’ and ‘Y’, and Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory further exemplify how positive motivating factors can contribute towards creating an environment necessary for effective production.

The Systems Theory – as put forward by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy – was an attempt at looking an management as an integrative framework. It was based on his general systems theory, and analysed an organisation as a social system, which is constituted by its sub-systems. Further, these constituent sub-systems are inter-dependent and inter-linked with each other, and an impact on one unit has the capability of impacting the entire system.

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The Contingency Approach, proposed by Burns and Stalker in 1950s, expands on the above by adding that each organisation has a unique environment and its sub-systems.

Peter Drucker’s response to the works of Scientific Management scholars comes in the form of his Five Dimensions of Working (Drucker 1986: 132-141). The first one is the “physiological” dimension which says that the “human being is not a machine and does not work like a machine”. The second dimension is “psychological” – work as a burden and a need, as a curse and a blessing. Work as a “social bond” and a “community bond” is the third dimension of man at work. Next is the Economic dimension – work as “living”. The fifth one is the Power dimension – “the Power dimension of Working”, and the “Power dimension of Economics”.

Each of these theories offers a unique perspective in People and Organisational management. These theories are applied as an integrated framework into modern business practices. For example, modern concepts of organisational management are not completely alien from the ideas of Scientific Management or classical organisation theory. Modern theories rather develop and evolve from these, with findings of theorists being based on researches by industrial psychologists and sociologists (Accel 2008). Although contemporary management thought witnesses a significant shift from the classical theories, Scientific Management principles experience often a see a revival. For instance, Gulick advocates supreme necessity for scientific management to be applied to public administration because government enterprises are larger in manpower and more complex in function than private industries (Van Riper 1995).

We can conclude that we need to study and understand all these theories to understand the complexities of human organisational behaviour and management, and apply them as one body of knowledge, especially in the construction industry, because it encompasses all kinds and scales of organisations and groupings.

As discussed earlier, human resource is the only true resource in a business enterprise (Drucker 1986). Talking specifically about the construction industry, efficient management of this resource is the key to success of an organisation and that of a project. Also, as discussed earlier, the pressures of performance have never been greater than those in the 21st century. Therefore, People and Organisational Management theories need to be carefully and sensitively applied in the construction industry to get the most out of human resources – professionals and labourers alike. Taking cues from the theories of management, following can be summarised as the key activities in modern management practice:


Planning is the process of setting targets, and developing a methodology and outlining tasks and schedules to accomplish these targets. Planning can be done at personal level, at strategic level, at operations level, at financial level, and at developmental level among others. It starts with identifying the needs and its reasons, formulating a strategy and identifying the resources needed to achieve them. Planning of manpower vis-a-vis time constraints and performance objectives, and the allocation of adequate human resources to achieve desired quality is integral to the process of construction management in the modern world.

In modern approaches to management, especially in the construction industry, tools used for planning like PERT charts are built upon tools like Gantt charts developed by classical theorist Henry Gantt. Hence we see that there is a direct link between Scientific approaches and modern approaches to planning.


Organising, by definition, is the process of breaking down the planning objectives into tangible activities, allocating responsibilities to individuals for the fulfilment of these activities, and coordinating activities and responsibilities into an appropriate structure. (Cole 2004: 10).

An understanding of this helps organise workforce into clear structured groups for efficient achievement of targets. The process of organising human resources establishes the lines of authority, accountability, delegation, and responsibility. The organisational charts thus developed can be applied at many levels. In construction industry, they may be developed to understand contractual, communicational and directional linkages at inter-stakeholder level. Or at lower levels, may be annotated to establish directional and functional lines within individual stakeholder organisations. Scott (1961) equates modern organisational theory with system theory, in that it studies the interaction of individuals with the environment found in the system, and the interactions among individuals in the system.

Talking about individual organisations, Mintzberg (1989) identified six types of organisational structures – Small structure, Machine Bureaucracy, Divisionalised structure, Professional Bureaucracy, Adhocracy, Idealistic organisation. An organisation may also evolve from one type to another as it grows in size.

One of the factors in an organisation’s productivity and efficiency is the organisation’s culture, which also contributes significantly to employees’ motivation.


Motivation is one of the most critical components of People and Organisational Management. Motivation can be described as a person’s internal will to perform a particular task. If the employees in an organisation are not motivated, then the knowledge within the organisation is not used to its maximum (Osteraker 1999). The prime responsibility of a manager is to get work done through the employees of the organisation. For this, he should be able to motivate them. Employee motivation is the key to improving performance output. Performance is a direct function of ability and motivation. Starting from Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments, management theorists have repeatedly argued that motivation of employees is essential for any business or organisation to survive and succeed. Mary Parker Follet also said that human problems are central to an organisation’s success. (Cole 2004: 34-35), and contributed to the advancement of Human Relations stream of management thought. Maslow’s (1954) Heirarchy of Needs provides a framework to understand people’s needs at work, and Herzberg’s (1959) Motivation-Hygiene Theory examines the factors of satisfaction at work. Osteraker (1999) draws on all these and other motivational theories, and creates a dynamic triangle of motivation. This triangle has physical, mental and social dimensions of potential motivational needs at its nodes, and at the centre is the dynamic force represented by values and attitudes of the organisation.

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Speaking specifically of the construction industry, motivation is particularly important in design consultant organisations wherein designers have a tendency of losing interest in the project as it progresses towards more technical phases. Amabile and Khaire (2008) have listed out ways in which a leader can keep his organisation motivated through to the end of a project.


Leadership is to get people to do things towards achieving defined targets by means of their wilful cooperation. It is the ability and skill of a manager to direct the employees towards organisation’s objectives by building confidence among them. Motivation and direction are two key tenets of leadership.

Leadership styles range from being Authoritarian-Dictatorship to being Democratic-Participative, in varying degrees. Although there are several theories describing the qualities or traits of an effective leader, intelligence, energy and resourcefulness seem to be the most representative traits of a leader (Cole 2004). In addition to being a task achiever and motivator, a leader is also sometimes required to be a role model for the group members, and a figurehead for the group he belongs to.

Management style

Drucker (1954: 6) defines a manager as someone who does his work by getting other people to do theirs. Management style of a manager or an organisation is their typical way of getting this work done and dealing with issues of employees’ performance, productivity, and work behaviour. Choosing an appropriate management style to get effective output is one of the qualities of a good leader. Linkert identified four management styles – exploitative-authoritative, benevolent-authoritative, consultative, and participative-group styles. Management by objectives (Drucker 1954) and Management by wandering around (MBWO) some of the common management styles, both widely applied in the construction industry. MBWO, used more in consultancies, is getting increasingly popular lately. Another common style is regular Staff Appraisals, where in employee performance is reviewed in a structured way, training and development needs are identified, and goals are set for future.


Fayol defines coordination as an act of unifying and integrating. It is the harmonious functioning of different parts and activities to achieve holistic and congruent results.

Coordination for built environment professionals means unification of different trades and disciplines that come together to constitute a building. It is the prime responsibility of a project manager that all disciplines are well coordinated at all times, and striving towards the same goals. Experts have listed several mechanisms for effective coordination, but they all hinge upon one common factor, and that is effective communication.


Communication is the process of sharing information between two or more individuals or organisations. Cole (2004:220) defines it as the process of creating, transmitting and interpreting ideas, facts, opinions and feelings. The flow of communications in an organisation can be vertical or lateral and the pattern may be one-way or two-way (Cole 2004). Effective communication skills of a manager are vital to the success of a project or an organisation, where it is the duty of the manager to monitor and disseminate the information.



Managing a project or an organisation requires appropriate control systems to monitor and make sure that the objectives are being achieved as agreed. Cole (2004) summarises the process of management by saying that, if planning represents the route map of a journey, then organising represents the route means by which one may arrive at the chosen destination, and controlling ensures that the traveller knows how well she is progressing, how correct the map is, and what diversions need to be taken.

Controlling may be achieved by establishing performance standards (in terms of time, cost and quality), checking performance and actual results against those standards or benchmarks, and take corrective actions if required. For construction industry, having adequate control systems in place is the only way to ensure that the project goes to the end successfully. Fayol underlines that, to be effective, control must be timely and be supported by penalties (Fells 2000).

This concludes our discussion on the people and organisational management theory, and how it relates to the construction industry and built environment profession. In the end we look at some of the challenges being faced by construction industry in today’s age. As the economies of the world grow, the construction industry is face by newer and newer challenges. The challenges faced by construction industry in the development of a particular city sometimes follow a definitive pattern, and can be seen when another city goes through a similar phase of development. The markets are always volatile, and economies see great variations from depressions to booms. The construction industry is known to survive all these variations (Groak 1992).

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The nature of the construction industry to perform visibly normally in spite of the turbulations and uncertainties has drawn similarities to the Chaos theory according to Groak (1992), who lists these uncertainties and their responses from the industry. These uncertainties are industrial, market, project, workplace, and site-organisational uncertainties. And the construction industry has its unique responses to these and moves on much better compared to other industries.

List of References:


  1. Cole, G A (2004) Management Theory and Practice. 6th ed. London: Thomson Learning.
  2. Drucker, P F (1986) Management – Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Truman Talley Books.
  3. Drucker, P F (1954) The Practice of Management. New York: HarperCollins.
  4. Groak, S (1992) The Idea of Building. London: Taylor & Francis.
  5. Karloff, B (1993) Key Business Concepts. London: Routledge.

Journal Articles:

  1. Osteraker M C (1999) Measuring motivation in a learning organisation. Journal of Workplace Learning, 11 (2), 73-77.
  2. Pindur W, Rogers S E, Kim P S (1995) The history of management: a global perspective. Journal of Management History, 1 (1), 59-77.
  3. Scott W G (1961) Organization Theory: An Overview and an Appraisal. The Journal of the Academy of Management, 4 (1), 7-26.
  4. Teresa M A, Khaire M (2008) Creativity and the Role of the Leader. Harvard Business Review, 86 (10), 100-109.
  5. Van Riper, PP (1995) Luther Gulick on Frederick Taylor and scientific management. Journal of Management History, 1 (2), 6-7.

Web Sources: as retrieved on 16 November 2008 as retrieved on 16 November 2008 as retrieved on 17 November 2008


Part 2

Reflecting back on my management competencies, I can say that I have developed management competencies as I have been charged with responsibilities over the last few years. Having worked in the same organisation for nearly five years – an architectural consultancy firm – I not only grew in position proving my capabilities, but also feel that I have matured as a professional and a manager.

It has been a journey where I have learnt at every step and developed my competencies as I went along – learning by reflecting on my achievements and mistakes, and with the help of constructive feedback from peers, superiors and subordinates.

Talking about my personal management competencies, I can say that I have the ability to develop personal rapport with team members, and lead them through strict deadlines and high pressure, with a clear focus on delivery. I am a firm believer, and practitioner, of leading by example, and have been successful in this approach. Still I believe I sometimes lack in motivational ability. Taking periodic Belbin’s tests after having been introduced to them three months ago, I have found that I have been consistently falling under the Shaper-Specialist category, with occasionally taking on a Plant’s role.

Although growth in career and climb on the ladder has been quite steady, there have been times of self doubt and questioning, and the answers have been difficult to get by. With career graph going up, managerial responsibilities rise tremendously. Coming from a premier architecture school and equipped with sound technical skills and some exhaustive professional experience, rising up the ladder came naturally. But lack of structured training in management was always a hindrance.

My management competencies were first put to test when I was made in-charge of a satellite office in Muscat. I was assigned to lead a team of four junior architects and was supposed to solve client’s issues locally and be a coordinating point between the clients and our head office in Dubai. The pressures were immense, the clients very tough. With guidance from superiors, and learning by mistakes, I fared reasonably well, and the clients were happy and satisfied. But in retrospect, I feel I could have done much better had I had a structured training in client management and/or formal formal communication.

With respect to interpersonal skills, the team overall performed quite well under my direction, but I found myself lacking in my ability to motivate some of the members who were generally laid back in their approach.

The two years post Muscat experience have been those of consolidation. I have been leading a team to deliver work packages within a large project structure. This period has been more of a structured approach towards completing tasks and delivering within tight deadlines. I have been able to manage design changes quite well, and managed to stick to the program, still maintaining high levels of quality by repeated checks and monitoring. I have been able to keep the staff motivated and interested till the end of the job, and also in the process, trained them to rise to the next level.

During this phase, my approach was that of inclusion and participation from the team. But the feedback I received from some of the team members during an informal discussion was totally contrary to this belief of mine. They thought I was autocratic and authoritarian most of the time. This view was refuted by some other team members, but still it has broadened my perception further, and I now put checks in my approach to staff.

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