Mintzburg's Taxonomy of Organizational Forms

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Mintzberg's Taxonomy of Organizational Forms
by Fred Beshears
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According to Henry Mintzberg, an organization's structure is largely determined by the variety one finds in its environment. For Mintzberg, environmental variety is determined by both environmental complexity and the pace of change. He identifies four types of organizational form, which are associated with four combinations of complexity and change.

To help explain each of the four organizational forms, Mintzberg defines five basic organizational subunits.

Basic Subunits |
Subunit| Example positions from a manufacturing firm.|
Strategic Apex| Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer| Technostructure | Strategic Planning, Personnel Training, Operations Research, Systems Analysis and Design| Support Staff| Legal Counsel, Public Relations, Payroll, Mailroom Clerks, Cafeteria Workers| Middle Line| VP Operations, VP Marketing, Plant Managers Sales Managers| Operating Core| Purchasing Agents, Machine Operators, Assemblers, Sales Persons, Shippers|

Each of the four organizational forms in Mintzberg's scheme depend on fundamentally different mechanisms for coordination.  
 
Organizational Form | Coordination Mechanism |
| |
Machine Bureaucracy| Standardize procedures and outputs|
Professional Organization| Standardize professional skills and norms| Entrepreneurial Startup| Direct supervision and control|
Adhocracy| Mutual adjustment of ad-hoc teams|
 
 

And, in each particular form, different subunits tend to have greater influence. Machine Bureaucracy| Technocrats standardize procedures and outputs| Professional Organization| Professionals in the operating core (e.g. doctors, professors) rely on roles and skills learned from years of schooling and indoctrination to coordinate their work| Entrepreneurial Startup| Managers in the strategic apex directly supervise the work of subordinates.| Adhocracy | Teams of professionals from the operating core, support staff, and technostructure rely on informal "mutual adjustment" to coordinate their efforts. In administrative adhocracies, the low-level operations maybe totally automated.|  

 

The Organizational Structure of the University
The University is a Professional Organization, but "support units" may be composed of other forms. For example, support subunits that perform routine functions may have machine bureaucratic managements, but technocratic subunits may be administered as professional organizations or adhocracies. As the university struggles to cope with new information technologies, its overall organizational form may tend towards adhocracy. But, the stress of working in an adhocracy puts pressure on the organization to organize subunits according to one of the other forms. Finally, professional orientation toward service and a bureaucratic orientation toward disciplined compliance with procedures are opposite approaches to work and create conflict in professional organizations.

Selected Passages from 
"Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations" and
"The Strategy Process: Concepts, Contexts, Cases"
by Henry Mintzberg
 
The Entrepreneurial Startup (the simple structure)
The simple structure is characterized, above all, by what is not elaborated. Typically, it has little or no technostructure, few support staffers, a loose division of labor, minimal differentiation among its units, and a small managerial hierarchy. Little of its behavior is formalized, and it makes minimal use of planning, training, and liaison devices. Coordination in the simple structure is effected largely by direct supervision. Specifically, power over all important decisions tends to be centralized in the hands of the chief executive officer. Thus, the strategic apex emerges as the key part of the structure; indeed, the structure often consists of little more than a one-person strategic apex and an organic operating...
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