Mechanistic Structure: Definition & Example

Mechanistic Structure: Definition & Example
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  • 0:00 What Is A Mechanistic…
  • 0:25 Key Concepts
  • 1:45 The Five Consequences
  • 2:45 Example
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
In this lesson, you will learn what a mechanistic organizational structure is, discover its key components, and be provided an example. You'll also have a chance to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz.

What Is a Mechanistic Organization?

A mechanistic organization is a concept developed by British theorists Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker in their work titled The Management of Innovation, written in 1961. According to them, characteristics of a mechanistic organization include a high degree of organizational complexity, formalization, and centralization.

Key Concepts of a Mechanistic Organization

Burns and Stalker researched the relationship between an organization's structure and management with its environment. They developed a continuum of organizational structure with an organic organization at one extreme and a mechanistic organization at the other end, with each demonstrating certain advantages in different types of environments. An organic organization does well in a dynamic environment where change needs to occur quickly, while a mechanistic organization functions best in stable and predictable environments.

You can break down a mechanistic organization into three general elements. First, its structure is highly complex. The organization uses a hierarchical structure, division of labor, and member-task specialization. Second, a mechanistic organization demonstrates a high degree of formalization, where organizational activities and decision-making are governed by a system of organizational rules and procedures. Finally, the organization has a high degree of centralization, which means a hierarchy of authority with a tight chain of command. Decisions are made from the top down and each lower level is answerable to and takes orders from the level above it.

Consequences of a Mechanistic Organization

According to scholars, the design of a mechanistic organization has five important consequences. First, there is a very narrow information network because information usually only flows vertically within the hierarchy. Second, knowledge is centralized at the top of the organization and is used in the coordination of the tasks of each specialized part of the organization.

Third, decision-making and control is centralized by superiors who make the decisions, issue orders, and assess results. Fourth, a mechanistic organization has a long chain of command and a vertical organizational structure; think about a tall isosceles triangle.

Fifth, employees participate very little in decision-making. This type of organization works best in a stable and predictable environment. It does not work that well in dynamic environments because change takes a long time, given its management and organizational structure, and also tends to restrict creativity and innovation.

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