Task and Work Oriented Organizational Structure


Task and Work Oriented Organizational Structure

The organizational structure for the organizing of the activities and reporting relationships can be organized in five distinct methods (Fig 1). These are (i) structure based on functions, (ii) team organization, (iii) decentralized structure, (iv) simulated decentralization, and (v) systems structure. The first two of them are traditional structures while the remaining three are new ways of organizing the organizational activities.

Fig 1 Methods for organizing and reporting relationships for an organization structure

Each of the above five structures have been developed to meet specific needs. Hence, one may get an impression that each of them suits certain convenience and does not represent any reasoning. But in reality, each of these structures expresses different type of reasoning. Each takes one general aspect of managerial organization and builds a structure around it.

Organization structure is needed to satisfy the minimum requirements with respect to (i) clarity, (ii) economy, (iii) direction of vision, (iv) understanding by the employees of their own task and the common task, (v) decision making, (vi) stability and adaptability, and (vii) maintenance and self-renewal. These are described below and given in Fig 2.

Clarity – Clarity means that all the managerial components, and all the employees within the organization, particularly all the executives, need to know where they belong, where they stand, where they have to go for whatever is needed, whether it is information, cooperation, or decision. Clarity is not to be confused with simplicity. Actually, structures which appear simple may lack clarity. And apparently complex structures can have complete clarity. A structure in which the employees do not know without an elaborate organizational manual where they belong, where they have to go, and where they stand creates friction, wastes time, causes disputes and frustration, delays decisions, and is overall an obstacle rather than a help.

Economy – The requirement of economy is closely related to clarity. In such a structure it is possible to control, to supervise, and to persuade people to perform with a minimum of effort. Organization structure is to be such that it makes self-control possible and encourages self-motivation. Further, as per the requirement, the smallest possible number of employees, especially employees of high-performance capacity, are to devote time and attention for keeping the organization going. In any of the organization, some of the efforts are to be used to keep the organization running and in good condition. There is also some necessity to use certain of the organizational inputs on (i) internal control, (ii) internal communications, and (iii) personal problems. But the lesser the input of the organization are used for these activities, the more of the inputs then get converted into output. The organization becomes more economical when more of the inputs are used for the organizational performance so that the organization can give higher output.

Direction of vision – It is essential that the organizational structure directs the vision of employees and of the management towards the performance, rather than towards putting efforts. Also, the structure needs to direct vision toward the results, that is, toward the performance of the complete organization. Performance is the results which all the activities achieve. Actually, organization can be compared to a ‘transmission’ unit which drives the activities towards performance. The efficiency of the organization is higher if the transmission is more direct, that is, the less it has to change the speed and direction of individual activities to make them yield performance. The largest possible number of executives needs to perform as operating personnel rather than as ‘bureaucrats’ or ‘experts’. As many as possible, the executives are to be tested against performance and results rather than primarily by standards of administrative skill or professional competence.

Understanding by the employees of their own task and the common task – It is essential that an organization enables all its employees, especially all the executives and the professionals, to understand their own tasks. But at the same time, the organization is to enable all its employees to understand the common task, the task of the entire organization. All the employees of the organization, in order to relate their efforts to the common good, are required to understand how their tasks fit in with the task of the entire organization. And, in turn, they are needed to know what the task of the entire organization implies for their own tasks, their own contributions, their own directions. Hence, the communications need to be helped rather than hampered by the structure.

Decision-making – None of the five methods of structuring the organization is primarily designed around a decision making model. However, decisions are to be made, to be made on the right issues and at the right level, and are required to be converted into work and achievement. Hence, the organizational structure is required to be tested to find whether it hampers or strengthens the decision making process. A structure which forces decisions to go to the highest possible level of organization rather than be settled at the lowest possible level clearly hampers decision making. So the organization structure which complicates the need for crucial decisions, or which focuses attention on the wrong issues, such as jurisdictional disputes, hampers the decision making.

Stability and adaptability – The organization requires stability. It needs to be able to carry out its operations even though the environment around it is highly unstable. It needs to be capable to build on its performance and achievement of the past. It needs to be capable to plan for its own future and continuity. The employees also need a homely place. No one gets much work done in a moving train compartment, no one gets much work done in a place which itself is not stable. Further, the employees need to belong to a community in which they know people and are known by them, and in which their own relationship is secured. But stability is not rigidity. On the contrary, the organizational structure needs adaptability. A completely rigid structure is not stable. In fact, it is fragile. Only if the organizational structure is able to adapt to new situations, new demands, new conditions, and new environments then only it is able to survive.

Maintenance and self-renewal – The organization is needed to be able to maintain itself. It needs to be able to provide for its self-renewal. These two needs require a number of demands. The organization is to be able to produce leaders for the future from within. One minimum requirement for this is that it must not have so many levels of management so that an able person, entering a management job at a very young age, cannot normally reach the top rungs of the promotion ladder while he is still young enough to be effective. One self-renewal need is the ability of the organizational structure to prepare and test an employee on each level for the next level above. It is especially to prepare and test the present day junior and middle level executives for senior and top-management positions. For preservation and self-renewal, the organizational structure is also to be accessible to new ideas and is to be ready and able to do new things.

Fig 2 Minimum requirements needed to be satisfied for organization structure

Some of the above requirements are visibly in conflict. No method of the organizational structure can fully satisfy all of them. However, the organizational structure which is capable of performance and stability is required to satisfy all these specifications to some degree. This means balancing, compromises, and trade-offs. It also implies that several methods rather than one are likely to be used for the organizational structure even for a simple organization. For if any one of these methods goes totally unsatisfied, the organization is not be able to perform. Hence, the building of the organizational structure needs understanding of the available methods, their requirements, their limitations, and their fit against the requirements.  The first thing to know about the available methods is their reasoning. The organization, which is having ‘structure based on functions’ and having the ‘team organization’ structure, is organized around task and work. On the other hand, the organization which has the ‘decentralized structure’ and has ‘simulated decentralization’ structure is organized around results. The organization having ‘systems structure’ is organized around relationships.

Methods for organizing work

There are three methods for organizing all the physical as well as the mental work. In the first method, work is organized by the ‘stages in a process’ as being done during the construction of a building structure, where first the foundation is built, then the frame and the roof are built, and finally the interior details are done. As per the second method, the work is organized in a way so that the work moves to where the skill or tool required for each of the steps is located. The example is a metalworking plant which has rows of lathes and reamers in one bay, stamping machines in another bay, and heat-treating equipment in a third bay and so on, with the pieces of metal piece being processed moving from one set of tools and their skilled operators to another. In the third method, the work is organized so that a team of workers with different skills and different tools moves to the work, which itself is stationary. As an example, a film making crew consisting of a director, the actors, the camera man, the electricians, the sound engineers etc. ‘moves to the location’. Each one carries out his highly specialized work, but they work as a team.

The organization having structure based on functions is normally organizing the work into ‘related packages of skill’. Actually, it organizes work both by the stages and by the skills. Such traditional functions as manufacturing or marketing involve a very wide variety of unrelated skills. As an example, a worker working in a technological process unit needs for its operation the process skill and the skill of production planning, while an employee working in the marketing section needs the skills of the salesperson and skills in the market related activities such as customers relationship etc. But manufacturing and marketing are distinct stages in the process of the organization. However, the other functions, such as finance and human resources, are organized by relative skills. But in any functional organization the work is moved to the stage or the skill. The work moves, while the position of the person is fixed.

In the team organization structure, however, work and task are, so to speak, fixed. Employees with different skills and different tools are brought together in a team. The team is assigned a piece of work or a job, whether this is a research project or constructing a new unit. Both the structure based on functions and team organization structures are older methods. Many examples of these two ways of organizing are available as the historical facts.

Tasks and work are to be structured and organized. It is essential for an organization to apply either the structure based on functions and team organization structures or both in order to execute task or work. It is necessary that the organizational management understands both.

The structure based on functions

The structure based on functions has the major advantage of clarity. Everyone has a workplace. Everyone understands his own task. The organization having this structure is an organization of high stability. But the price for clarity and stability is that it is difficult for the employees, upto and including the top management, to understand the common tasks and to relate their own work to it. While stable, the structure is rigid and resists adaptation. It does not prepare employees for tomorrow, does not train and test them. On the whole, it tends to make them do what they are already doing a little better, rather than to seek new ideas and new ways of doing things.

The strengths and the limitations of this structure provide the organization peculiar characteristics with respect to the requirement for ‘economy’. At its best, such an organization works with high economy. Very few people at the top need to spend much time on keeping the organization running, that is, on organizing, coordination, conciliation, and so on. The rest can do their work. But at its fairly common worst, such an organization is totally uneconomical. As soon as it approaches even a modest size or complexity, friction within the organization builds up. It rapidly becomes an organization of misunderstanding, disputes, empires, and build ups of dividing walls. It soon needs coordinators, committees, meetings, troubleshooters, special dispatchers, which waste time of everyone without bringing, as a rule, any solution to the problems. And this tendency towards conflict not only occurs  between different functions but also within a large functional unit of the organization where its sub-divisions and sub-functions are also likely to internal inefficiency and also requires more and more administrative efforts to keep it running smoothly.

The basic strength as well as the basic weakness of this organizational structure is its effort-focus. Every functional executive considers his function the most important one. This emphasizes expertise and professional standards. But it also makes employees in the functional unit tend to subordinate the welfare of the other functions, if not of the entire organization, to the interests of their unit. There is no real cure against this tendency in such organization. The wish of every function to improve its own standing in the organization is the price paid for the worthy desire of each executive to do a good job.

Communications are fairly good in a small organization with this organizational structure, but they, also, break down as the size of the organization increases. Even within an individual functional unit say an operation department, as an example, communications deteriorate if the department becomes large or complex. Employees are then increasingly specialists, interested primarily in their own narrow specialty.

The ‘decision-making’ for this organizational structure based on functions becomes poor even if they are very small. For decisions in such an organization cannot, as a rule, be made except at the highest level. No one except the executive at the top understands the entire organization. As a result, decisions are easily misunderstood by the organization and are often poorly implemented. And because such an organization has high stability but low adaptability, the challenge to do something truly new and different is likely to be suppressed rather than brought out in the open and faced up to.

Organizations with this type of the organizational structure also do poorly in developing, preparing, and testing its employees. Such organization puts the major emphasis on an employee’s acquiring the knowledge and competence which pertain to a particular function. Yet the functional specialist may become narrow in vision, skills, and loyalties. In such an organization, there is a built-in emphasis on not showing too much curiosity about the work of other functions or specialties, which means, narrow departmentalization is encouraged.

These limitations and weaknesses of organizations with this organizational structure are obvious from the very first. Hence, a good deal of thought has been given to offsetting them, and to offsetting, in particular, the greatest weakness i.e. the tendency of such an organization to misdirect the vision of functional people from contribution and results to efforts and business.

Even where this organizational structure applies, its scope is limited to operating work. Top management works, but the work is not ‘functional’ work. And such organization is the wrong organization for it. Wherever applied, it has made for a weak top management.

The functional principle is even less applicable to innovating work. In innovation, employees try to do something not done before, that is, something they do not yet know. Employees need the individual skills of the various disciplines in innovation, but they do not yet know where and when these are to be needed, for what time, in what degree, or in what volume. Hence, the innovative task cannot be organized on the basis of the organization with this type of organizational structure. It is mismatched with it.

Functionalism works very well for the kind of the product and market for which it has been designed. Anything more complex, more dynamic or more innovative requires performance capacities which the functional principle does not possess. If used beyond the limits, this type of structure rapidly becomes costly in terms of time and effort. It also runs a high risk of directing the energies of the organization away from the performance and toward mere busyness. In organizations which exceed the limits, in size, in complexity, or in innovative scope, this type of structure is to be used only as one method and never as the method. And even in the organizations which have this structure, functions of top-management require a different method.

Team organization

A team consists of a number of people (normally small in number) with different backgrounds, skills, and knowledge and drawn from various departments of the organization, who work together on a specific and defined task. There is usually a team leader. The team leader is often permanently appointed for the duration of the team’s assignment. But leadership at any one time places itself according to the logic of the work and the specific stage in its progress. There are no superiors and subordinates and there are only senior team members and junior team members.

All the organizations normally use teams all along for one-time tasks, but it has been only recently recognized that the team is also a useful principle for permanent method for the organizational structure. The task of the team is normally a specific task say product development. But the team itself can be permanent. Its composition may vary from task to task. However, its base remains fairly constant, even though individual members can scatter between tasks or belong, at one and the same time, to a number of teams.

Team organization structure is clearly visible in a hospital. The team structure in the hospital is usually mobilized for the services to be rendered for meeting the needs of the individual patient as defined by the doctor who is the team leader, with the nurse as the executive implementing the decisions of the team leader. In the hospital, everyone is directly concerned with patient care, that is, every member of the team, is supposed to take personal responsibility for the success of the entire team’s effort. The doctor’s instructions are law in the hospital. Yet, physiotherapist who is told, for example, to give rehabilitation exercises to the patient is expected to notice when the patient seems to run a fever, to stop the exercises, and to inform the nurse straightaway and ask for measurement of the patient’s temperature. He does not hesitate to reverse a doctor’s instructions within his own sphere. The doctor can order an orthopedic patient to be measured for crutches and taught how to use them. The physical therapist on the other hand, may take one look and decide that the patient does not need crutches and will be better off using a stick right away or just walking on his walking cast without any support. However, the performance responsibility rests with the whole team. The nurse as executive draws on the resources of the whole organization as needed. At certain stage she brings in X-ray technician while at another stage a physiotherapist and at another stage hospital laboratory technician and so on. The composition of the team can be different for every patient, but the team leader who carries primary responsibility also tends to work again and again with the same three or four people in each functional area.

In this structure, team needs a continuing assignment in which the specific task changes frequently. If there is no continuing assignment, there can be a temporary task force, but not an organization based on the team structure as a permanent feature. If the tasks do not change, there is no need for team organization structure. A team needs a clear and sharply defined objective. It must be possible all the time to receive feedback from the objectives to the work and performance of the whole team and of each member.

A team needs leadership. It can be a permanent leader.  He can be the recognized head of the top management team, or leadership can shift with each major phase. But if it does, one person is to be clearly designated to decide, at a given stage, who takes team leadership for a particular phase of the task. This is not leadership responsibility for making the decision and giving the command but it is leadership responsibility for deciding who among the team members has the decision and command authority for a particular phase. Hence, a team does not function in a democratic way. There is emphasis on the authority which is normally task derived and task focused.

The team as a whole is always responsible for the task. The individual members contribute their particular skills and knowledge. But every individual is always responsible for the output and performance of the entire team rather than only for his own work. The team is the unit. Team members need not know each other well to perform as a team. But they do need to know each other’s function and potential contribution. In a team ‘rapport’, ‘empathy’, and ‘interpersonal relations’ etc. are not required. What is essentially needed is the mutual understanding of each other’s job and common understanding of the common task. Hence, it is the team leader’s first task to establish clarity which includes clarity of objectives and clarity with respect to everyone’s role, including the his own.

The team organization structure has its strengths and limitations. The team has obvious strengths. Every team member always knows the work of the whole and holds him responsible for it. It is highly receptive to new ideas and new ways of doing things. And it has great adaptability. It has also a number of limitations. It has clarity only if the team leader creates it. It has poor stability. Its economy is low since a team stresses continuing attention to its management, to the relationships between the team members, to assigning persons to jobs, to explanation, deliberation, communication, and so on. Much of the energy of the team members goes into keeping things running. Although each team member understands the common task, he does not always understand his own specific task. He can be so interested in what others are doing that he pays insufficient attention to his own task.

Teams are adaptable. They are receptive to new ideas and to new ways of doing things. They are the best means available for overcoming functional isolation and narrow interest. Still, teams do only a little better than the organization having structure based on function in preparing employees for higher management responsibilities or in testing them in performance.

A team organization structure has neither clear communications nor clear decision making capabilities. he whole team is to work constantly on explaining to itself as well as to the management and the rest of the organization what it is trying to do, what it is working on, and what it has accomplished. The team is to constantly make sure that the decisions which are required to be made are brought into the open. Otherwise, there is a real danger that the teams make decisions which they are not to make such as the decisions which irreversibly commit the whole organization.

The failure rate of teams is generally high. Teams fail primarily because they do not impose on themselves the self-discipline and responsibility required by their high degree of freedom. No task force can be accommodating and function.

The biggest limitation of the team organization structure is the team size. Teams work best when there are few members. Ideally the team is to have seven to fifteen members. If a team gets much larger, it becomes unwieldy. Its strengths, such as flexibility and the sense of responsibility of the members, diminish. Its limitations are lack of clarity, communication problems, and over-concern with its internal relationships. These limitations become crippling weaknesses.

The size limitation for the team determines the scope of applicability of the team organization structure. It is the best available structure for the top-management work. Actually, it is probably the only suitable structure for the top management. The team is also the desired structure for innovative work. But for most operating works, the team is not proper by itself alone as the desired structure of organization. It is a complementary to structure based on functions. It can be said that it is the team organization which makes the structure based on functions fully effective and enables it to do what is expected from it.

The area where team organization as a complement to the structure based on functions is likely to make the greatest contribution is in knowledge work. The knowledge organization is likely to balance function as a person’s home with team as his place of work (the technical term for this is matrix organization). Knowledge work by definition is specialized work. Hence, the shift from middle management to knowledge organization brings a host of specialists into the management group as operating people. The traditional pattern of functions is being replaced by an enormous number of new functions. Of course many of them can, and are required to be grouped together. Still, while the quality control specialist is often being put together with the other operational personnel, quality control work is different and separate. This also applies, for example, to product managers or market managers, who are related alike to the traditional marketing function.

This requires better functional management. The organization is to decide what specialties are needed, or it will drown in useless learning. It is to think through what the key activities are in which specialized knowledge are needed. It is to make sure that knowledge work in the key areas is provided for in depth and with excellence. Knowledge work in other areas is either not to be done at all or is to be kept in low key.

A specialty or a function is to be managed to assure that it makes the contribution to the organization for the sake of which it has been established. Management is to anticipate in the present the new specialties which are to be needed in future and the new demands which are to be made in future for the existing specialties. There is need for concern, in other words, for developing specialized knowledge, which in other words is known as ‘management development’.

There is great need for concern with, and for management of, the specialists themselves. Whether the specialists are working on the truly important things, or they are wasting their time. They may be working for doing over again what is already known how to do, or they are working on creating new potential and new performance capacity. Whether they are being used productively, or they are just being kept busy. Whether they are being developed both as professionals and also developed as persons. These are crucial issues which cannot be answered by checking how many hours a person works. They require knowledge of the functional area and genuine functional management.

Much knowledge work is certainly to be organized on a strictly functional basis. Much also is to be done by individuals who, in effect, are an organizational part by themselves. However, an increasing number of knowledge workers, are to have a functional area but do their work in a team with other knowledge workers from other functions and disciplines. The more advanced knowledge is, the more specialized it has to be. And specialized knowledge is a fragment, if not mere ‘data’. It becomes effective only as input to other person’s decisions, other person’s work, and other person’s understanding. It becomes results only in a team.

Hence, the knowledge organization has increasingly two aspects namely (i) a functional one, managing the individual and his knowledge, and (ii) the second one, the team, managing work and task. Perceived one way, this damages the functional principle and destroys it. Understood in another way, it saves the functional principle and makes it fully effective. It certainly requires strong, professional, effective, functional managers and functional components.

The team is clearly not a cure-all. It is a difficult structure requiring great self-discipline. It has severe limitations and major weaknesses. But it is also not, as many managers still believe, only a temporary measure for dealing with nonrecurring special problems. It is a genuine structure for the organizationIt is the best principle for such permanent organizing tasks as top-management work and innovating work. And it is an important and perhaps essential complement to the structure based on functions such as in mass-production work, whether manual or clerical, and above all, in knowledge work. It is probably the key to making functional skill fully effective in the knowledge organization through the matrix organization, in which a functional skill-oriented component is one axis and the task-oriented team the other axis.

In short, there are available five different methods for the organizational structure in which the activities and reporting relationships can be organized. Each method satisfies some of the requirements, but none satisfies all of them. Each of the method has strengths, limitations, and demanding requirements for effectiveness. And each expresses different requirements. The first two methods ‘structure based on functions’ and ‘team organization’, are organized around the rationality of work and task. Though frequently seen as in conflict, they are largely complementary, especially for knowledge work, which is increasingly being organized in matrix organizations, using both functional and team methods for the organization of the activities.