The way that an organization is structured will define how certain activities – like supervision or the allocation of tasks – are designed to achieve the company’s goals.2 This is because organizational structures impact the way projects are divided and procedures are formatted (i.e. who does what). There have been many different models of organizational structure since different organizations have different needs in order to be efficient, flexible, and innovative. As a result, organizational structures have been a distinct field of study since the 1940s, an emergence mostly attributed to sociologist and political economist Max Weber.
Weber presented the concept of bureaucratic structures – among the existing organizational structures – as analogous to a machine: precise, fast, and unambiguous.3 He outlined how bureaucratic structures would have a certain degree of standardization and be better suited for more complex or larger administrations. Ultimately, there were three main characteristics for bureaucracies: clearly defined roles and responsibilities; respect for merit; and a hierarchical structure. In terms of hierarchy, bureaucracies would have people in different levels of the organization, with policies regulating the decision making and actionable powers afforded to individuals at each level. In other words, everyone would know and respect their place.
In the 1970s, Henry Mintzberg reviewed the literature on organizational structure that had manifested since Weber’s conceptualizations in the 1940s.1 Mintzberg noticed that although the literature was quite varied, the number five kept standing out. He realized that, when compiled, all the research articles seemed to break down into fives: five basic parts of an organization, five basic mechanisms of coordination in the organization, and five organizational configurations. This inspired Mintzberg to publish his 1980 paper, Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design.
In his paper, Mintzberg started by outlining the five basic parts of organizations:
- The operating core, which includes all employees who produce the basic products and services of the organization; the lowest level.
- The middle line, which includes the middle level managers who are situated between those in the operating core and strategic apex.
- The strategic apex, which includes the highest level leaders.
- The technostructure, which includes analysts (i.e. accountants, planners, schedulers).
- The support staff, which includes those who provide indirect support to the organization (i.e. human resources, lawyers, public relations).
Mintzberg then described the five ways that coordination of tasks could be carried out:
- In direct supervision.
- In the standardization of work processes, where work is coordinated through standards regarding how to do the work.
- In the standardization of outputs, where work is coordinated through standard performance measures or specifications on work outputs.
- In the standardization of skills, where work is coordinated by workers internalizing the skills and knowledge required for their work.
- In mutual adjustment, where individuals coordinate their own work through informal communications.
Finally, Mintzberg presented five organizational structures that he felt were a result of the different organizational parts and coordination of tasks:
- Simple structure, where the strategic apex and direct supervision dominate the organization.
- Machine bureaucracy, where the technostructure and standardization of work processes dominate the organization.
- Professional bureaucracy, where the operating core and standardization of skills dominate the organization.
- Divisionalized form, where the middle line and standardization of outputs dominate the organization.
- Adhocracy, where the support staff and mutual adjustment dominate the organization.