Organizational Configurations

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How do organizations fit together? Explanation of Organizational Configurations of Mintzberg.


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What are Organizational Configurations? Description

The organizational configurations framework of Henry Mintzberg describes six valid organizational setups.

Mintzberg organizational configurationsvalid Organizational Configurations

  1. Simple Structure (Entrepreneurial Startup)
  2. Machine Bureaucracy
  3. Professional Organization (Professional Bureaucracy)
  4. Division Organization
  5. Ad-hocracy (Innovative Organization)
  6. Idealistic Organization (Missionary Organization) (added later by Mintzberg)
  7. Political (= lacking a real coordinating mechanism)

1: Simple Structure (Entrepreneurial Startup)

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 core.

Most organizations pass through the simple structure in their formative years. The environment of the simple structure tends to be at one and the same time simple and dynamic. A simple environment can be comprehended by a single individual, and so enables decision making to be controlled by that individual. A dynamic environment means organic structure: Because its future state cannot be predicted, the organization cannot effect coordination by standardization.

Another condition common to simple structures is a technical system that is both non-sophisticated and non-regulating. Sophisticated ones require elaborate staff support structures, to which power over technical decisions must be delegated, and regulating ones call for bureaucratization of the operating core.

2. The Machine Bureaucracy

A clear configuration of the design parameters is described consistently in the research: highly specialized, routine operating tasks; very formalized procedures in the operating core; a proliferation of rules, regulations, and formalized communication throughout the organization; large-sized units at the operating level; reliance on the functional basis for grouping tasks; relatively centralized power for decision-making; and an elaborate administrative structure with sharp distinctions between line and staff.
The machine bureaucracy depends primarily on the standardization of its operating work processes for coordination. Because of that the technostructure - which houses the analysts who do the standardizing - emerges as the key part of the structure.

Machine bureaucratic work is found above all in environments that are simple and stable. The work of complex environments cannot be rationalized into simple tasks, and that of dynamic environments cannot be predicted, made repetitive, and so standardized.

The machine bureaucracy is typically found in the mature organization. The mature organization is large enough to have the volume of operating work needed for repetition and standardization. And it is old enough to have been able to settle on the standards it wishes to use. Machine bureaucracies tend also to be identified with regulating technical systems, since these enable routine work and so enable it to be formalized.

The managers at the strategic apex of these organizations are concerned mainly with the fine-tuning of their bureaucratic machines. These are "performance organizations"; not "problem solving" organizations. They constantly search for more efficient ways to produce given outputs. Thus, the entrepreneur function has a very restricted form at the strategic apex.

3. Professional Organization (Professional Bureaucracy)

The professional bureaucracy relies for coordination on the standardization of skills and its associated design parameter, training and indoctrination. It hires duly trained and indoctrinated specialists ("Professionals") for the operating core, and then gives them considerable control over their work. Control over their own work means that the Professionals work relatively independently of their colleagues, but closely with the clients that they serve. Most necessary coordination between the operating Professionals is handled by the standardization of skills and knowledge - in effect, by what they have learned to expect from their colleagues.
Whereas the machine bureaucracy generates its own standards, the standards of the professional bureaucracy originate largely outside its own structure: in the self-governing association, which its operators join with their colleagues from other professional bureaucracies. The professional bureaucracy emphasizes authority of a professional nature - the power of expertise.

The strategies of the professional bureaucracy are largely ones of the individual professionals within the organization as well as of the professional associations on the outside. The professional bureaucracy's own strategies represent the cumulative effect over time of the projects, or strategic "initiatives," that its members are able to convince it to undertake.

The technical system cannot be highly regulating, certainly not highly automated. The professional resists the rationalization of his skills - their division into simply executed steps - because that makes them programmable by the technostructure, destroys his basis of autonomy, and drives the structure to the machine bureaucratic form.

Like the machine bureaucracy, the professional bureaucracy is an inflexible structure, well suited to producing its standard outputs but ill-suited to adapting to the production of new products or services.

Change in the professional bureaucracy does not sweep in from new administrators taking office to announce major reforms. Rather, change seeps in by the slow process of changing the Professionals: changing who can enter the profession, what they learn in its professional schools (norms as well as skills and knowledge), and thereafter how willing they are to upgrade their skills.

4. Division Organization

Coordination is achieved by specifying the results of different work. Through standardization of outputs. Diversified markets (products and services). The middle line is the key part of the organization. They coordinate the output, acting between the strategic apex and the operating core.

5. Adhocracy (Innovative Organization)

In an adhocracy, we have a highly organic structure, with little formalization of behavior. Job specialization that is based on formal training. A tendency to group the specialists in functional units for housekeeping purposes but to deploy them in small, market-based project teams to do their work. A reliance on liaison devices to encourage mutual adjustment. This is the key coordinating mechanism, within and between these teams.
To innovate, we must break away from established patterns. Therefore the innovative organization cannot rely on any form of standardization for coordination. Of all the configurations, adhocracy shows the least respect for the classical principles of management, especially unity of command. The adhocracy must hire experts and give power to them - Professionals whose knowledge and skills have been highly developed in training programs.

Unlike the professional bureaucracy, the adhocracy cannot rely on the standardized skills of these experts to achieve coordination, because that would cause  standardization instead of innovation. Rather, it must treat existing knowledge and skills merely as bases on which to build new ones. Moreover, the building of new knowledge and skills requires the combination of different bodies of existing knowledge. So rather than allowing the specialization of the expert or the differentiation of the functional unit to dominate its behavior, the adhocracy must instead break through the boundaries of conventional specialization and differentiation. Whereas each professional in the professional bureaucracy can work autonomous, in the adhocracy professionals must amalgamate their efforts. In adhocracies the different specialists must join their forces in multi-disciplinary teams, each formed around a specific project of innovation.

Managers abound in the adhocracy - functional managers, integrating managers, project managers. The last named are particularly numerous, since the project teams must be small to encourage mutual adjustment among their members, and each team needs a designated leader, a "manager." Managers become functioning members of project teams, with special responsibility to effect coordination between them. To the extent that direct supervision and formal authority diminish in importance. The distinction between line and staff is not clear.

The adhocracy can take two basic forms:

5A. The Operating Adhocracy

The operating adhocracy innovates and solves problems directly on behalf of its clients. Its multidisciplinary teams of experts often work under contract, as in the think-tank consulting firm, creative advertising agency, or manufacturer of engineering prototypes.
A key feature of the operating adhocracy is that its administrative and operating work tend to blend into a single effort. That is, in ad hoc project work it is difficult to separate the planning and design of the work from its execution. Both require the same specialized skills, on a project-by-project basis. Thus it can be difficult to distinguish the middle levels of the organization from its operating core, since line managers and staff specialists may take their place alongside operating specialists on project teams.

5B. The Administrative Adhocracy

The second type of adhocracy also functions with project teams, but toward a different purpose. Whereas the operating adhocracy undertakes projects to serve its clients, the administrative adhocracy undertakes projects to serve itself, to bring new facilities or activities on line, as in the administrative structure of a highly automated company. And in sharp contrast to the operating adhocracy, the administrative adhocracy makes a clear distinction between its administrative component and its operating core. The core is truncated - cut off from the rest of the organization - so that the administrative component that remains can be structured as an adhocracy.
This truncation may take place in a number of ways:

  • First, when the operations have to be machinelike and so could impede innovation in the administration (because of the associated need for control), it may be established as an independent organization.
  • Second, the operating core may be done away with altogether - in effect, contracted out to other organizations.
  • A third form of truncation arises when the operating core becomes automated. This enables it to run itself, largely independent of the need for direct controls from the administrative component. The latter is left free to structure itself as an adhocracy to bring new facilities on line or to modify old ones. With this change in the operating work force comes a dramatic change in structure: the operating core transcends a state of bureaucracy - in a sense it becomes totally bureaucratic, totally standardized, ... and the administration shifts its orientation completely. The rules, regulations, and standards are now built into machines, not workers. And machines never become alienated, no matter how demeaning their work. So there is no need anymore for direct supervision and technocratic standardization. The obsession with control ends as well. And in comes a corps of technical specialists, to design the technical system and then maintain it.

6. Idealistic Organization (Missionary Organization) (added later by Mintzberg)

The norms infusing the work are controlled, usually for the entire organization, so that everyone functions according to the same set of beliefs. As in a religious order.

The maximum of six parts of any organization

  1. Strategic Apex. (Top management) See: Office of Strategy Management
  2. Middle Line. (Middle management)
  3. Operating Core. (Operations, operational processes)
  4. Technostructure. (Analysts that design systems, processes, etc)
  5. Support Staff. (Support outside of operating workflow)
  6. Ideology. (Halo of beliefs and traditions;  norms, values, culture)

Six Valid coordinating mechanisms in organizations

  1. Direct supervision. (Typical for entrepreneurial organizations)
  2. Standardization of work. (Typical for machine organizations)
  3. Standardization of skills. (Typical for professional organizations)
  4. Standardization of outputs. (Typical for diversified organizations)
  5. Mutual Adjustment. (Typical for innovative organizations)
  6. Standardization of norms. (Typical for missionary organizations)

Book: Henry Mintzberg - Mintzberg on Management -

Organizational Configurations (Mintzberg) Forum
  Should 50% of the Board Be Product People?
According to Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (2014), "at the most senior level, the people with the greatest impact - the ones who are running the company - should be product people. When the CEO looks around her staff meeting, a good rule of thu...
  Differences between Bureaucracy and Innovative Organization (Adhocracy)?
Dolan summarizes three main signs or differences between Mintzberg's 2nd and 5th configuration: adhocracy (AD) and machine bureaucracy (MB). It's good to remember them because they are so common:
- MB: Those working in a suc...
  New Organizational Configurations?
Are there any new organizational configurations? Which?...
  Configuration School
In my opinion the configuration school has clearly contributed to strategic management and strategy formation by means of its diverse literature and practice....
  New Organisation Configurations
Good article about configuration. It has incorporated retrospective (classical) thinkers view as well as prospective thinkers views. Henry Mintzberg's analysis is direct & simple to understand for organisation theory & structure researchers. Recently...
  Different Times and Organizational Size
Now things have changed a lot and the size of present day organisations has become bigger, so most of the principles seem to matter less in the present context....
  Configurations don't exist
Of course, in reality none of the configurations described by Mintzberg actually exist and organizations are much more complex. But the structures from Mintzberg are useful to analyze:
* Why and how is an organization shaped in a particular way?

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Configurations Mintzberg


Organizational Configurations


Configurations Mintzberg


Organizational Configurations


Configurations Mintzberg


Organizational Configurations


Configurations Mintzberg


Organizational Configurations

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