In defence of structure

Structure is defined as the allocation of authority, responsibility and resources within an organization. The subject of organizational structure is somewhat unfashionable amongst the academic community. The trend in industry at present is towards flatter and more fluid structures, eroding the distinction between different levels and functional areas of the organization. It may, therefore, be worth reviewing some of the positive effects of a clearly defined organizational structure. Many practitioners understand the task of managing a business unit through concepts of structure; a corporate structure diagram provides a useful overview of the key functions performed by the business, and the ways in which individuals interact. According to Jacques (1990), organizational structure or hierarchy has the following functions:

• Separating out jobs which have different levels of complexity or involve different types of mental activity;
• Ensuring that people are accountable for what they do (and don’t do);
• Adding value to work as it progresses through the organization;
• Providing a vehicle for performance evaluation and staff appraisal.


Motivation and direction of staff

By assigning leadership and authority to individuals, the structure provides a vehicle by which instructions can be passed down through the organization, and a control mechanism that ensures that these instructions are carried out. Such control may be exercised through coercion and the use of penalties, or positive motivation and the use of rewards. In addition, the fact that structures clearly assign leadership roles helps staff to know whom they should look to for instruction, guidance and advice. The presence of hierarchy also motivates staff by offering the opportunity of career progression.


Flow of information

A clear structure can enhance the flow of information through the business. Staff on the ground have a clear point of reference (i.e. the manager/ supervisor) from which to receive information from senior management and feed back comments, ideas or views. It also helps senior management to influence the flow of information – if the dissemination network is clearly defined, in theory, senior management can control what information is transmitted to specific parts of the organization.


Understanding organizational roles

Perhaps the most powerful function of the organizational structure is in helping individuals within the organization to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they fit with, and are separate from, others in the organization. If this did not happen, the business could not function.