Structural design rarely starts from scratch. Managers search for options among the array of possibilities drawn from their accumulated wisdom or the experiences of others. Abstract templates and frameworks can offer food for thought. Henry Mintzberg and Sally Helgesen offer two conceptions of structural possibilities.
As the two-dimensional lines and boxes of a traditional organization chart have become increasingly archaic, students of organizational design have developed a variety of new structural images. One influential example is Mintzberg’s five-sector “logo,” depicted in Exhibit 4.1. Mintzberg’s chief contribution is clustering various functions into groupings and showing their relative size and clout in response to different missions and external challenges. His schema does not provide details. It is a rough atlas of the structural terrain that helps managers get their bearings. It assists in sizing up the lay of the land before assembling a structure that conforms to the surroundings.
At the base of Mintzberg’s image is the operating core, consisting of people who perform essential work. The core is made up of workers who produce or provide products or services to customers or clients: teachers in schools, assembly-line workers in factories, physicians and nurses in hospitals, and flight crews in airlines.
Directly above the operating core is the administrative component: managers who supervise, coordinate, control, and provide resources for the operators. School principals, factory foremen, and echelons of middle management fulfill this role. At the top of Mintzberg’s figure, senior managers in the strategic apex track current developments in the environment, determine the mission, and shape the grand design. In school systems, the strategic apex includes superintendents and school boards. In corporations, the apex houses the board of directors and senior executives.
Two more components sit alongside the administrative component. The technostructure houses specialists, technicians, and analysts who standardize, measure, and inspect outputs and procedures. Accounting and quality control departments in industry, audit departments in government agencies, and flight standards departments in airlines perform such technical functions.
The support staff performs tasks that support or facilitate the work of others throughout the organization. In schools, for example, the support staff includes nurses, secretaries, custodians, food service workers, and bus drivers. These people often wield influence far greater than their station would suggest.
Exhibit 4.1. Mintzberg’s Model.
Source: Mintzberg (1979, p. 20). Copyright ©1979. Reprinted by permission of Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J.
From this basic blueprint, Mintzberg (1979) derived five structural configurations: simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, divisionalized form, and adhocracy. Each creates its unique set of management challenges.
Most businesses begin as simple structures with only two levels: the strategic apex and an operating level (see Exhibit 4.2). Coordination is accomplished primarily through direct supervision and oversight, as in a small mom-and-pop operation. Mom or pop constantly monitors what is going on and exercises total authority over daily operations. William Hewlett and David Packard began their business in a garage, as did Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; General Electric had its humble beginnings in Thomas Edison’s laboratory. The virtues of simple structure are flexibility and adaptability; one or two people control the entire operation. But virtues can become vices. Authorities block as well as initiate change, and they punish capriciously as well as reward handsomely. A boss too close to day-to-day operations is easily distracted by immediate problems, neglecting long-range strategic issues.
Exhibit 4.2. Simple Structure.
Source: Mintzberg (1979, p. 307). Copyright ©1979. Reprinted by permission of Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J.
When a start-up company grows in size, a simple structure struggles to manage the accompanying complexity. Mintzberg’s schema offer alternative possible routes, such as moving toward a machine or professional bureaucracy, or evolving into a divisionalized structure.
McDonald’s is a classic machine bureaucracy. Important decisions are made at the strategic apex; day-to-day operations are controlled by managers and standardized procedures. Machine bureaucracies have large support staffs and a sizable technostructure, with many layers between the apex and operating levels (see Exhibit 4.3).
For routine tasks, such as making hamburgers and manufacturing automotive parts, a machinelike operation is both efficient and effective. A key challenge is how to motivate and satisfy workers in the operating core. People tire quickly of repetitive work and standardized procedures. Yet offering too much creativity and personal challenge in, say, a McDonald’s outlet could undermine consistency and uniformity—two keys to the company’s success.