Chain of Command: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Chain of Command
  • 1:43 Example of Chain of Command
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Chain of command is a principle of a formal organization. In this lesson, you will learn what a chain of command is and will be provided some examples to explain the principle. You will have an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz following the lesson.

Definition of Chain of Command

Chain of command is a hierarchy of authority where those at the top of the organization direct and control the activities of the organizational members below them. The rationale of chain of command is that it permits coordination of different individuals and groups engaging in task specialization in order to accomplish organizational goals. Individuals or groups engaged in specialized tasks do not always understand the big picture; their efforts must be coordinated by management so that the overall goal is achieved.

For example, different employees are involved in putting together a car on an assembly line, but no one employee knows how to put together the entire car. Management ensures that all the tasks are performed such that a car is properly completed.

While a properly functioning chain of command can establish effective coordination, accountability, and efficiency in organizational operation, there are some drawbacks as noted by organizational behavior theorists, such as Chris Argyis. These theorists argue that since a chain of command tends to give lower-level individuals little or no control, there may be little job satisfaction, which may result in low motivation. Organizations often respond by providing monetary rewards and encouraging competition for top-level positions. However, according to Argyis, these solutions create problems of their own, such as low personal involvement at work or destructive competition between employees.

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