The mechanistic view of an organization began with the industrial revolution. The view is a reflection of society's radical change from a rural agricultural base to one more impersonally based on centralized urban industry employing great numbers of people. The first changes began in the late 1600's and early 1700's with rudimentary machines replacing manual labor or accomplishing things not previously possible because of size, weight, or sheer numbers. The greatest industrial growth was during the 1800's period, which was exponential at its end and the outset of our century.
The view and metaphorical analogy of an organization as a machine was the result of the only frame of reference available at that time, and is anchored in the conditions then prevalent, large numbers of un- or semi-educated people aggregating into centers clustered around factories. When the view is combined with what business organizations are designed to do -- take raw materials and convert them as quickly and efficiently as possible into commercial products that will make a profit -- the comparison of organization to machine is easily made and readily apparent. As in the new machines available during the industrial revolution, organizations can be seen as composed of many "parts" which are the individual people and/or business departments (milling, stamping, forging, assembly, etc.). Any of which can be changed, modified, or replaced individually or totally.
The hierarchical, pyramidal representation also coincides with the machine where one part is crucial (power source), diffusing downward through power shafts which turn various wheels (departments) with many cogs (people) that produce something. The metaphor of the machine is useful and appropriate in bureaucratic organizations where repetition and conformity is useful, and where the output is a standard homogeny.
Mechanistic structures are designed to induce people to behave in predictable, accountable ways. Decision-making authority is centralized, subordinates are closely supervised, and information flows mainly in a vertical direction down a clearly defined hierarchy. In a mechanistic structure the tasks associated with a role are also clearly defined. There is usually a one-to-one correspondence between a person and a task (figure 1 depicts this). Each person is individually specialized and knows exactly what he or she is responsible for, and behavior inappropriate to the role is discouraged or prohibited.
The mechanistic structure is the traditional or classical design, common in many medium- and large-size organizations. Mechanistic organizations are somewhat rigid in that they consist of very clearly delineated jobs, have a well-defined hierarchical structure, and rely heavily on the formal chain of command for control. Bureaucratic organizations, with their emphasis on formalization, are the primary form of mechanistic structures. According to Max Weber, bureaucracy is a form of organization characterized by a rational, goal-directed hierarchy, impersonal decision making, formal controls, and subdivision into managerial positions and specialization of labor. Bureaucratic organizations are tall consisting of hierarchies with many levels of management. In a tall structure, people become relatively confined to their own area of specialization. Bureaucracies are driven by a top-down or command and control approach in which managers provide considerable direction and have considerable control over others. Other features of the bureaucratic organization include functional division of labor and work specialization.
ConformityWorkers have no autonomy
Well trained workers Repetitive work
Centralized authorityInhibits creativity
Clear lines of communicationMachines typically control the workers Rapid standardized output High employee turnover
ConformityOrganization have trouble adapting to change