The interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary character is the crux of management education. Different tools are needed in different use cases

The issues in the growth of management educational institutions are many. To begin with, it is on account of varying understanding about the nature of ‘management’, as a discipline. The subject area is itself relatively recent and it found a place in educational institutions between the two world wars. The research traditions are, also, relatively young and area-wise variations in the methods of research are many. Many who have a management degree were at the best taught to be managers and those skills are not always the same as what may be needed for teaching management.

There are also variations on account of the nature of the management of educational institutions. Management has been attempted to be taught in general education institutions, agricultural sciences institutions, medical institutions, single discipline institutions and other types of institutions. The antiquity of such institutions, their administrative structure, their market-relatedness, their brand pulls and more are of varying nature.

It is generally believed that management education, in its original incarnation, began as ‘labor studies’. ‘Leadership’ was then not a fashionable area of research or teaching. As it so happens often, a 50-year-plus retrospect throws up many contenders for being named as being the first initiative in the domain of management education, in India. Xavier Labour Relations Institute of Jamshedpur was, as claimed by many, one of the first management teaching institutions in India.

Ranchi University also claims to be the pioneer in this area. There are other contending institutions, both in the form of colleges and universities, too many and with too little evidence to be listed here.

Slowly, however, labour studies grew to a broader and bigger cauldron to include inputs from other well-established disciplines for their focus and decision-making. Illustratively, Psychology was a popular choice as the basis for ‘understanding behaviour’. Many took it that if they knew Psychology they understood behavior. Attractive as the proposition might be, it was only a part truth. Behavior is influenced by many factors besides psychology. Behavior could be influenced by social factors which could be best understood with the help of Sociology. There were areas in which behaviour could not be understood without the understanding of local history. In other areas of behaviour, insights could be obtained through Political Science or even Geography.

The behavioural traits of people from a hilly region would be different from the behavioural traits of people of a river valley culture. Thus, it is that understanding behaviour requires a comprehensive and anthropological insight into areas other than just psychology. The emergence of this kind of approach in response to a felt need saw the emergence of an area called ‘organizational behavior’ within the domain of the management subject area. It was a relatively more recent specialization and required a multi-disciplinary approach. Since there were several so-called subject areas of Psychology, Anthropology, History, and Sociology, and more needed and capable of making their contribution to this new area of “organizational Berhaviour” methods of research in the ‘Organisational Behaviour’ area took time to crystalize.

 Feedback from the field established that understanding ‘Organisations’ required insights into the ability to produce ‘results’. This itself needed an appreciation of the ‘structure’ and ‘processes’ of organisations. Disciplinary gaps and overlaps could not be allowed to blur the clarity into appreciating which actions would need to take place in organisations for effectiveness. The effectiveness of learning in educational institutions would be measured by its applicability in the world of work.

Gradually disciplinary conflicts reduced its interface for the requirement of understanding behavior in organisations. Several focused studies revealed that where behavior would be similar in many ways in an organization it would have variations say from one management domain to another. A ‘finance man’ would need a particular type of orientation as a man in the marketing area or operations research domain would need different kinds of tools. As the number of learning institutions grew and found an orientation of their own it became obvious that each ‘division’ of the learning organization would need an approach with a multi-disciplinary perspective. The need for an ‘area approach’ was widely recognized. Thus in educational institutions ‘Management Faculty’ acquired a character of its own. The use of the word ‘department’ was considerably reduced and instead the word ‘area’ became more common. Thus, it is that management institutions grew up to have an organizational behaviour area rather than an organizational behaviour department.

This approach affected almost every contributing input to management learning and decision-making. Illustratively in management institutions, say, the ‘finance area’ emerged which subsumed under it everything from accounting to auditing. Similar observations could be made about the operations research area, marketing area, or, for that matter, anything that became an input to managerial skill formulation. To sum up, therefore, the important thing is to recognize the interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary character of management education. This is the foundation of any management institution that seeks to create an ambience of learning for management learning.

(The writer is an internationally acclaimed management consultant. The views expressed are personal)