Why Organisational Structures Matters

Becoming a Better Leader
April 5, 2022

An organizational structure is a set of rules, roles, relationships and responsibilities that determine how a company’s activities should be directed to achieve its goals. It also governs the flow of information through levels of the company and outlines the reporting relationship among midlevel staff, senior management, executives and owners. It is effectively a hierarchy for a company, though some organizational structures emphasize a near-total lack of hierarchy.

Running a business means successfully delegating tasks among your employees. It also means having the final say on all projects – or, if your company is on the larger side, hiring people whom you trust enough to give full approval powers. An organizational structure for your business can help you make sense of where and with whom your company’s responsibilities lie, and you have plenty of types from which to choose.

How many types of organizational structures are there?

In your research, you may at first read that there are two types of organizational structures: centralized and decentralized. However, experts have come up with eight types of organizational structures, each of which is either centralized or decentralized:

1. Hierarchical structure

Also known as a line organization, is the most common type of organizational structure. Its chain of command is the one that likely comes to mind when you think of any company. Power flows from the board of directors down to the CEO through the rest of the company from top to bottom. This makes the hierarchical structure a centralized organizational structure.

These are some advantages of a hierarchical structure:

  1. It clearly defines reporting relationships, project organization, and division of authority.
  2. It details corporate ladder and promotional structure, thereby encouraging high-quality work.
  3. It helps to specialize each employee’s work.
  4. It cultivates stronger relationships among employees within a team.

There are also some drawbacks of choosing a hierarchical structure:

  1. Bureaucratic hurdles could delay project completion and discourage employees from taking risks.
  2. It may encourage employees to prioritize their own departments and direct supervisors instead of the whole company.
  3. It can make employees feel like they have no say in how to approach their projects.

2. Functional structure

This centralized structure greatly overlaps with the hierarchical structure. However, the role of a staff director instead falls to each department head – in other words, each department has its own staff director, who reports to the CEO.

These are some advantages of a functional structure:

  1. It helps employees develop specific, specialized roles.
  2. It boosts individual departments’ and employees’ self-sufficiency and innovation.
  3. It scales easily to work for companies of all sizes.

These are some drawbacks of a functional structure:

  1. It doesn’t encourage communication and interaction among different departments.
  2. It hides key details of departmental processes and strategies from employees outside that department.

3. Divisional structure

The centralized structure is more common in enterprise companies with many large departments, markets, or territories. For example, a food conglomerate may operate on a divisional structure so that each of its food lines and products can have full autonomy.

These are the main advantages of a divisional organization:

  1. The different departments have some flexibility to operate separately from the company at large.
  2. It’s more adaptable to customer needs.
  3. Individual departments have more autonomy and room for innovation.

These are some drawbacks to a divisional structure:

  1. It risks accidental duplication of resources.
  2. It encourages poor communication and low interaction among different departments.
  3. It encourages internal competition across departments rather than uniting the company against outside competitors.

4. Flat structure

This decentralized organizational structure equates to almost all employees having equal power. At most, executives may have just a bit more authority than employees. This organizational structure is common in start-ups that take a modern approach to work or don’t yet have enough employees to divide into departments.

These are some advantages of a flat structure:

  1. Employees have more responsibility and independence.
  2. It improves communication and interaction among employees.
  3. It’s faster to implement new practices or ideas, with less risk of error.

These are drawbacks of a flat structure:

  1. Employees lack supervision.
  2. There could be confusion around reporting procedures.
  3. Employees lack or don’t develop specialized skills.
  4. It has poor scalability as the company grows.

5. Matrix structure

This is a fluid form of the classic hierarchical structure. This centralized organization structure allows employees to move from one department to another as needed.
These are the main advantages of a matrix organization:

  1. Supervisors have the flexibility to choose the best employees for a project.
  2. It allows for a dynamic org chart with varying responsibilities for employees.
  3. Employees have the opportunity to learn and foster skills outside their primary roles.

These are some drawbacks of a matrix organization:

  1. There could be conflicts of interest between the needs for project organization and department organization.
  2. The organizational chart is prone to regular changes.

6. Team structure

This is a decentralized, but formal structure that allows department heads to collaborate with employees from other departments as needed. It is similar to a matrix structure, but there is less focus on employee fluidity than on supervisor fluidity, leading to a decentralized functional structure.

These are the advantages of a team structure:

  1. The lack of compartmentalized labour drives productivity, growth, and transparency.
  2. It prioritizes employee experience over seniority.
  3. It minimizes employee management tasks.

These are some drawbacks to a team structure:

  1. It could confuse employees, given the potential subversion of traditional executive and lower-level roles.
  2. It obscures the corporate ladder and may disincentivize employees from working harder to be promoted.

7. Network structure

Utilised in especially large, multi-city or even international companies operating in the modern era. It organizes not just the relationships among departments in one office location, but the relationships among different locations and each location’s team of freelancers, third-party companies to whom certain tasks are outsourced, and more. While this may sound like a lot for one type of network structure to detail, this decentralized structure can be especially useful for understanding the human resources your company has on hand.

These are potential advantages of a network structure:

  1. It improves understanding of how functional roles are distributed among onsite employees, offsite employees, freelancers, and outsourced third parties.
  2. It boosts flexibility for one department or location to delegate tasks to another.
  3. It drives employee communication, collaboration, and innovation.
  4. It clearly outlines workflows and chains of commands in large businesses.

These are the possible drawbacks of a network structure:

  1. It’s complex, especially with regard to out-of-office processes.
  2. It’s vague as to which employee, department or office should make the final decisions.

8. Projectized structure

The focus for this structure is on one project at a time. In this centralized organizational structure, project managers act as supervisors, not just resource allocators, and decision-makers. Unlike other structure types, a projectized structure involves the demobilization of teams and resources upon a project’s completion. But it’s like other types of organizational structures in that an obvious hierarchy exists.

These are some advantages of a projectized structure:

  1. It fosters more efficient decision-making and communication.
  2. The sense of urgency around project completion increases employee cooperation.
  3. It increases employee flexibility and versatility.

These are some drawbacks of a projectized structure:

  1. The strict deadlines could increase workers’ stress.
  2. The power might be too strongly centralized with the project manager.
  3. It lacks the opportunity for long-term skill development among employees.

Which organizational structure is best?

When determining the right one for your company, think about how much power you would like to give your employees, how much room you would like to leave for innovation, how large your company is, and how much interaction matters to you. After weighing these factors, you’ll likely know which organizational structure is best for you.


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