An organizational structure is a system that outlines how certain activities are directed in order to achieve the goals of an organization. These activities can include rules, roles, and responsibilities.
The organizational structure also determines how information flows between levels within the company. For example, in a centralized structure, decisions flow from the top down, while in a decentralized structure, decision-making power is distributed among various levels of the organization.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes use organizational structures heavily. They define a specific hierarchy within an organization. A successful organizational structure defines each employee’s job and how it fits within the overall system. Put simply, the organizational structure lays out who does what so the company can meet its objectives.
This structuring provides a company with a visual representation of how it is shaped and how it can best move forward in achieving its goals. Organizational structures are normally illustrated in some sort of chart or diagram like a pyramid, where the most powerful members of the organization sit at the top, while those with the least amount are at the bottom. Not having a formal structure in place may prove difficult for certain organizations. For instance, employees may have difficulty knowing to whom they should report. That can lead to uncertainty as to who is responsible for what in the organization.
Having a structure in place can help improve efficiency and provide clarity for everyone at every level. That also means each and every department can be more productive, as they are likely to be more focused on energy and time.
Centralized vs. Decentralized Organizational Structures
An organizational structure is either centralized or decentralized. Traditionally, organizations have been structured with centralized leadership and a defined chain of command. The military is an organization famous for its highly centralized structure, with a long and specific hierarchy of superiors and subordinates.
There has been a rise in decentralized organizations, as is the case with many technology startups. This allows companies to remain fast, agile, and adaptable, with almost every employee receiving a high level of personal agency.
Types of Organizational Structures
Four types of common organizational structures are implemented in the real world.
1. The first, and most common, is a functional structure
This is also referred to as a bureaucratic organizational structure and breaks up a company based on the specialization of its workforce. Most small-to-medium sized businesses implement a functional structure. Dividing the firm into departments consisting of marketing, sales and operations is the act of using a bureaucratic organizational structure.
- The second type is common among large companies with many business units
It is Called the divisional or multidivisional structure, a company that uses this method structures its leadership team based on the products, projects, or subsidiaries they operate. A good example of this structure is Johnson & Johnson. With thousands of products and lines of business, the company structures itself so each business unit operates as its own company with its own president.
- Flatarchy, a newer structure
It is the third type and is used among many startups. As the name alludes, it flattens the hierarchy and chain of command and gives its employees a lot of autonomy. Companies that use this type of structure have a high speed of implementation.
- The fourth and final organizational structure is a matrix structure
It is also the most confusing and the least used. This structure matrixes employees across different superiors, divisions, or departments. An employee working for a matrixed company, for example, may have duties in both sales and customer service.
Organizational design is a step-by-step methodology which identifies dysfunctional aspects of work flow, procedures, structures and systems, realigns them to fit current business realities/goals and then develops plans to implement the new changes. The process focuses on improving both the technical and people side of the business.
For most companies, the design process leads to a more effective organization design, significantly improved results (profitability, customer service, internal operations), and employees who are empowered and committed to the business. The hallmark of the design process is a comprehensive and holistic approach to organizational improvement that touches all aspects of organizational life, so you can achieve:
- Excellent customer service
- Increased profitability
- Reduced operating costs
- Improved efficiency and cycle time
- A culture of committed and engaged employees
- A clear strategy for managing and growing your business
By design we’re talking about the integration of people with core business processes, technology and systems. A well-designed organization ensures that the form of the organization matches its purpose or strategy, meets the challenges posed by business realities and significantly increases the likelihood that the collective efforts of people will be successful.
As companies grow and the challenges in the external environment become more complex, businesses processes, structures and systems that once worked become barriers to efficiency, customer service, employee morale and financial profitability. Organizations that don’t periodically renew themselves suffer from such symptoms as:
- Inefficient workflow with breakdowns and non-value-added steps
- Redundancies in effort (“we don’t have time to do things right, but do have time to do them over”)
- Fragmented work with little regard for good of the whole (Production ships bad parts to meet their quotas)
- Lack of knowledge and focus on the customer
- Silo mentality and turf battles
- Lack of ownership (“It’s not my job”)
- Cover up and blame rather than identifying and solving problems
- Delays in decision-making
- People don’t have information or authority to solve problems when and where they occur
- Management, rather than the front line, is responsible for solving problems when things go wrong
- It takes a long time to get something done
- Systems are ill-defined or reinforce wrong behaviors
- Mistrust between workers and management