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Henry Mintzberg & Organizational Structure

Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

Henry Mintzberg is an organizational theorist who wrote extensively about business structure. This lesson discusses the five types of organizational structures he wrote about and why they are important to business.

Following a Structure

Why do bees organize around a comb? Why do ants work together to gather food and to build complex underground tunnel networks? Why do people seem to congregate together rather than live separately?

The answers are simple. Bees work together to gather enough food to feed the larger organization, cool the hive and protect their young. Ants work for these same purposes, and some even farm aphids as a source of food. But people are the ultimate social organizers. And the human need for society may also be the reason why businesses with a set structure thrive.

Henry Mintzberg is a management theorist who has worked for many years to describe different types of business structures. According to Mintzberg, businesses fall into one of five separate structures that fit different companies and organizational types: entrepreneurial, machine, professional, divisional, innovative. It can be said that these are personalities as well as structures, and we're going to be talking more about them here.

Entrepreneurial Structure

A large group of farm animals (like a flock of chickens or herd of cows) has a structure. With the chickens, there is a rooster at the head of the organization and usually a hen who is also at the top of the pecking order. Among cows, one older cow determines where they will graze and when they will move. An entrepreneurial organization has a very flat structure (few layers between the head of the organization and the bottom) and allows employees the freedom to 'graze' where they will. Like cows, the members of the organization are free to roam as long as they stay in touch with what the rest of the herd is doing.

Machine Structure

Orthodox churches (like Catholic, or Russian or Greek Orthodox) have a set leadership that is very visible and maintained by unbreakable rules. This top to bottom leadership structure, in which the rules that govern each layer are very formal and consistent, is a great example of a machine organization. This type of organization is falling out of favor in business, but many companies still maintain it because it best serves their purposes.

Professional Structure

Professional structures are the foundation of many law practices and institutions of higher learning. This is similar to a machine structure; it is designed to allow different professionals to work within a social structure while maintaining their own work. Professors with different degrees work within their own specialty, but each provides resources for the organization (university or college) as a whole.

Bees mirror this structure in many ways. There are lots of specific roles within a hive besides the queen and drones: worker bees can be nurses, fanners (for cooling the hive), soldiers or gatherers. Though there is some movement within these jobs, bees are essentially professionals in the jobs they have for the two to three months they are alive.

Divisional Structure

Car companies and military units function in much the same way, and use what Mintzberg calls divisional, or diversified, structures. For example, the United States Army and other branches of the military are organized along these lines. There is a central command structure that issues orders for the organization as a whole, and spread out around the world are different bases that serve as hubs for the organization. There are also different divisions based on job type. All of these divisions work toward a single mission, but they need some degree of autonomy (or freedom) to carry out their separate roles within the larger structure.

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