Organic Organizational Structure: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:30 Key Concepts
  • 3:09 Examples
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

In this lesson, you will learn about organic organizational structure including what it is and its key concepts. You'll be given some examples to illustrate it and have an opportunity to take a short quiz after the lesson.


An organic organization is a type of informal organization originally described by British theorists Tom Burns and George Stalker. According to Burns and Stalker, an organic organization is one that is very flexible and is able to adapt well to changes. Its structure is identified as having little job specialization, few layers of management, decentralized decision-making, and not much direct supervision.

Key Concepts

Burns and Stalker wanted to determine the relationship between an organization's structure and management as they relate to changes in the organization's environment. They developed a continuum of organizational structure where organic organizations are at one end and mechanistic organizations are at the other end. As you might expect, mechanistic organizations demonstrate high complexity, a high degree of formalization, and are highly centralized.

Organic and mechanistic types of organizations are defined by three general factors: complexity, formalization, and centralization. You will find that an organic organizational system has a low level of complexity, meaning that it's a flatly structured entity with few layers of management. Organic organizations have very few rules and procedures with vague member responsibilities and duties, resulting in a low degree of formalization. Finally, you will find that organic organizations have low centralization, which means that the members in the organization share in organizational decision-making and power.

A second aspect of the nature of these organizations is their relationship to the environment. Organic organizations are designed to effectively deal with a rapidly changing environment because they have attributes that make them able to address unforeseen problems, issues, and requirements. They are able to do so because of their informal communication systems that allow quick communication, a flat fluid structure that can quickly adapt to changes, and the ability to easily and continuously change individual activities in the organization. You will find that mechanistic organizations, on the other hand, are best suited for stable and predictable environments in which they can leverage their standard procedures, centralization, and formalized structure.

Finally, you need to keep two things in mind. First, any particular organization will fall within the continuum between the ideal organic organization and the ideal mechanistic organization. An organization that fits perfectly into the ideal type of organization on either side of the continuum probably does not exist. This means nearly all organizations will fall somewhere between the two extremes. Second, neither the mechanistic type organization nor the organic type organization is necessarily superior to the other. Each is the best type of organization in particular circumstances.


Let's say you are a member of a small Internet start-up. Your company has 12 employees consisting of 10 software engineers and computer programmers and two support staffers. The company was started by three friends who are software engineers that work directly with their colleagues in the day-to-day operations of the company. The three owners make decisions by majority vote but only after consulting with the other members of the organization, whose input is encouraged. There aren't many formal rules expect to respect each other and the customers and not break any laws. The company has an open door policy - anyone is free to consult with anyone else regarding problems or concerns. Your company is pretty far down on the organic side of the continuum.

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