The syllabus for BT/FBT includes the theory of organisations and related topics. Candidates must be familiar with the different organisational structures that can be adopted, as well as related concepts such as departmentalisation, divisionalisation, centralisation and decentralisation, span of control, scalar chain and tall and flat organisations.
In addition to these topics, candidates should also study some of the more contemporary organisational models.
This article provides an overview of some of these concepts.
An organisation is a group of people with a common purpose. The purpose is defined by the entity for which they work. In smaller businesses, such as partnerships and small companies, it is common for those who work for the organisation to have created it, or to have had some part in creating it. By contrast, larger organisations have to employ or involve more people, the majority of which will have little or no connection with the founders or owners.
Organisations have been around for thousands of years. The mighty armies of Greece and Rome were organisations, and the Phoenician merchants who plied their trade across the oceans could not have run successful businesses without some organisational structure. Whenever two or more people come together to pursue the same outcomes, we have an organisation. Organisations exist because synergy can be achieved by combining human resources. Together, those in an organisation can produce more than the sum total output of individuals working alone.
The industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought a need for more systematic and formal consideration of how organisations should be configured. Adam Smith used the example of the division of labour in a pin factory to describe the benefits of specialisation:
‘One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head: to make the head requires two or three distinct operations: to put it on is a particular business, to whiten the pins is another ... and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which in some manufactories are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometime perform two or three of them.’ (The Wealth of Nations, 1776)
Generally, businesses start as small entities, and many remain so. Every country in the world has thousands of sole traders, many of which work alone and are able to make their living without involving others. However, if the activities of the business grow, it eventually becomes necessary to utilise the labour of others. In family concerns, the trader may involve a spouse, children or siblings, and this may not even require the creation of any contractual relationships. Yet it does require some degree of organisation. Who carries out which tasks? Does everybody do the same work or does each individual specialise? To what extent should everyone be able to carry out the tasks usually reserved for others? How do we ensure that all work is done, but there is no wasteful duplication of effort? These questions can be addressed in a relatively informal manner in a small business where all control is in the hands of a single person. However, the very same questions have to be asked in the largest and most complex businesses, and for these the answers are less straightforward.
The entrepreneurial structure is adopted by smaller businesses. It is simple, informal and very fluid, in that it may change on a day-to-day basis.
This structure is adopted by sole traders who employ others, some small partnerships and some small companies. Those who own and control the business take decisions on the work to be done, how it will be done and by whom. It is quite common for employees to be expected to multitask and not to expect rigid job descriptions. Specialisation may be possible, such as a family member dealing with bookkeeping, but that individual may also be required to carry out additional tasks, perhaps if there is no bookkeeping work to be done at certain times.
The entrepreneurial structure is perfect for many small businesses, but is too informal and can even be chaotic once the level of business activity reaches a certain level. Eventually, the entrepreneur has to consider formalising the roles that employees play, and creating jobs with defined duties and responsibilities.
The functional structure is the most common organisational model. It is usually depicted as a triangle, with the chief executive officer at the top and reporting lines of others flowing vertically. The functional structure is formally depicted as an organisation chart. Figure 1 shows a typical organisation chart.
The duties of individuals are allocated according to the functions they perform. For example, a small company may have a production manager, finance manager, sales manager and IT manager reporting to the chief executive officer. Each of the functional managers is responsible for a department.
Many larger companies have general managers or assistant general managers responsible for groups of functions. For example, the General Manager (Marketing) may be responsible for advertising, public relations, merchandising and direct sales, and there may be a departmental manager responsible for each of these activities.
For each function, employees are grouped together to perform similar or complementary tasks. Just as the organisation as a whole can be represented on an organisation chart, so too can each department. Figure 2 shows how a finance department might be organised.
The functional structure has several advantages:
The disadvantages of the functional structure are:
The functional structure is common to many organisations, but different concepts can be deployed within it. For example:
Functional organisation by product
The functional model can be adapted for organisations that offer a range of products. Just as managers responsible for different products can report to the product manager, it is also possible for each product manager to have his or her own functional structure. In this way, several functions are duplicated across the organisation, as the manager responsible for each product may have their own production, sales, marketing, finance and administration departments. This is shown in Figure 3.
This organisation structure is sometimes appropriate if the design, production and marketing of each product is unique or significantly different to those for other products. This structure can also be suitable if products are distinctive brands. For example, some manufacturers of detergents offer both quality (or premium) products and discount products. Although they compete with one another to some extent, the products are usually targeted at different market segments.
Functional organisation by geographical region
Many organisations operate across different regions, or across international frontiers, so they may consider it to be appropriate to maintain separate functional structures in each location. This approach is not appropriate to all geographically dispersed businesses, but is suitable for organisations whose geographical locations have distinctive but contrasting characteristics. For example, companies with a presence in the UK, Ireland and Germany would be able to identify major differences in the demographic profiles, personal and family values and tastes in the three locations, while companies operating in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands would identify differences that are less crucial in commercial terms.
Functional organisation by geographical location is especially important for large companies that operate across several continents.
The matrix structure evolved in companies that sought to overcome some of the rigidities of the functional organisation structure. It was first deployed in the aerospace industry in the USA in the 1950s.
The most common application of the matrix structure is the creation of an extra layer of responsibilities across the traditional functional structure. As well has occupying a position in the organisational pyramid, which defines line relationships, employees have responsibilities to project managers. In this way, the employee may have two or even more managers. For example, an individual working in the finance department may report to the head of finance but may also have some duties in relation to IT/IS or marketing projects. The managers responsible for these projects will be able to call upon staff across organisational boundaries on a formal basis.
Figure 4 shows the matrix organisation.
Matrix organisations can be taken further in environments that are less dependent on rigid chains of command and lines of communication. For example, in some professional firms and consultancies, a position in a functional organisation chart is only important for the purpose of establishing accountabilities under employment law. As one individual working in such an organisation put it, when asked ‘Who is your manager?’, the reply was ‘It depends what day it is.’
There are several advantages of adopting a matrix structure:
The disadvantages include the following:
Traditionally, organisations bring people together in one or more physical locations in order to process inputs and create outputs, all within a formally defined structure. Advances in information communications technology have resulted in new approaches that have redefined where, when and how people work. The most obvious evidence of this is the reduction in reliance on the 9.00am to 5.00pm working day, the emergence of flexible working arrangements and increases in work sharing and home working. Organisations have also adopted new ways of configuring relationships.
A virtual organisation is one which operates primarily through electronic communications, taking advantage of the efficiencies made possible by information technology. It removes many of the features of the working environment that were once taken for granted, such as bringing managers and staff together at a defined location. People work together remotely, with little or no dependence on physical premises. Instead, communications take place through media such as emails, e-conferencing, extranet and intranet. This virtual aspect of the operation sometimes extends to links with suppliers (upstream), and customers (downstream). By extending the virtual concept to customer relationships, the dependence on retail premises and customer-facing staff is eliminated. Amazon is often cited as the first major virtual business in this respect.
The virtual organisation model can be adopted wholly or in just certain parts of the business. For example, one major insurance company maintains a large head office which serves as a base for functional departments, but many of the staff working for certain departments work from home and rarely if ever need to visit the office.
Some service organisations can adopt the virtual approach in its entirety, with a token physical presence at a registered office to satisfy statutory registration requirements.
The advantages of virtual organisations are:
The disadvantages of virtual organisations are:
A hollow organisation is one which relies heavily on outsourcing, enabling it to maintain low staffing levels while capitalising on the competences of partner organisations.
The most common application of this model is where an organisation identifies those competences that are core and must be retained. These are then kept in-house, while all non-core operations are contracted out.
The hollow organisation must forge strong strategic links with trusted partners. An example of this organisational form is Nike, a sports goods manufacturer, which sub-contracts production activities whilst maintaining total control over design and quality specifications.
A modular organisation extends the hollow concept by breaking down production processes into modules. Production is outsourced, but each external organisation is responsible for only one element of the process. For example, in producing the Dreamliner aircraft, Boeing enters into contracts with many suppliers, each of which is responsible for one component or assembly. The outputs of these suppliers can then be integrated.
The modular organisation is a more efficient, contemporary version of the model previously used by many car manufacturers, who often owned the subsidiaries which produced components that make up the final product. The modular organisation removes the need for complex ownership structures through holding companies and subsidiaries, and also creates forced efficiencies, as those responsible for each module have to compete with organisations in the same marketplace for their services.
The shared services organisation is a medium through which defined services can be provided across the organisation by a dedicated unit. This differs from outsourcing, in that the shared services provider is actually a part of the organisation.
Shared services organisations reduce the level of duplication of tasks. For example, instead of each part of the organisation employing human resources or information technology specialists, these services can be provided centrally, through a single team. In this way, they can reduce costs significantly and also standardise the policies and processes across the business. Management and operational support can be delivered through facilities such as hotlines or helpdesks.
An example of a very effective use of the shared services concept is the provision of professional training courses and support across large consultancy firms operating on a regional or multinational basis.
While the use of shared services organisations is increasing, the model is not suitable for all. For example, if the business units are very diverse, a centralised model may not be appropriate. It has also been suggested that potential cost reductions should not be over-estimated, as many organisations will still rely on local provision to meet the idiosyncratic needs of each business function or locality.
Written by a member of the BT/FBT examining team