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Essay: Organisational Structures and Cultures

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  • Published: 2 October 2015*
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Organisational Structures
An organisational structure is the typical arrangement of lines of command or authority, communications, rights and duties of an organisation. The organisational structure will determine how roles, duties and responsibilities are assigned and how information flows between the different levels of management. The structure of a company will typically depend on the company’s objectives and strategy.
In an organisation there is the formal and informal structure. The formal structure is typically built up to fulfil specific objectives and therefore link employees in an established network and assign particular tasks to such individuals or networks. On the other hand the informal structure is a more loosely structured set up that is made up of the communication and ideas that link people. This informal structure complements the formal structure.
Organisation structures can take many forms and the form will depend on the purpose of the organisation, its size and the tasks that it has to perform. The structure is also influenced by the external environment that it has to face and the culture that it is operating in. Finally the products or services that the organisation will supply and the organisation’s location, are also determining factors.
The most well known structures would be the hierarchical or tall structure, the flat structure and the matrix structure.
The hierarchical or tall structure would be similar to the structure depicted in Organisation A above. With such a structure there would be a narrow span of control due to the many levels of management or supervision. This type of structure will have long lines of communication and typically makes an organisation unresponsive to change. This type of organisation was very popular in the twentieth century when organisations were growing and hierarchical organisations were popular. This type of organisation is normally found in the public service and old school organisations.
On the other hand, the flat organisation would be similar to the structure depicted in Organisation B. A flat organisation has fewer levels of hierarchy and therefore lines of communication are short and more clear and effective. Such organisations are normally more responsive to change and this type of setup will lead to a wider span of control and therefore, inevitably, tasks have to be delegated so as to be efficient.
Such organisations can be either centralised or de-centralised. In the former case, decisions are taken by senior managers or directors centrally and then passed down the hierarchy. In the latter case, authority is delegated down the chain of command. This will inevitably lead to a reduction in the decision making speed.
Another form of organisational structure is the matrix structure. This structure will place its employees based on their function and the product/service they are working on. In this type of structure teams are used to complete tasks and attain objectives and the teams are based on the function that they perform. Such teams may be temporary or permanent depending on their set objectives.
Organisational Cultures
Organisation Culture is defined in various ways. Edgar Henry Schein (1992) defined organisational culture s ‘a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems’. Gareth Morgan (1988) defined organisational culture as ‘the set of beliefs, values and norms, together with symbol like dramatised events and personalities that represent unique character of an organisation, and provides the context or action in it and by it’.
Handy (1999) outlined four different types of organisational culture that contrast against each other. These are the power culture, the role culture, the task culture and the person or support culture.
The power culture is illustrated as a spider’s web where the boss sits in the centre surrounded by circles. The closer you are to the centre, the more influence you have. The diagonal lines represent the business functions. Power cultures can respond quickly to events but they depend heavily on the centre of power. The size of the organisation is an issue in such a culture because retention of control could pose problems. This type of culture relies heavily on individuals and there could be changeover problems when a person leaves the organisation.
The role culture is depicted as a Greek temple. Each column and beam have a role to play to keep up the structure. Therefore every employee is delegated roles and responsibilities according to the particular specialisation and qualifications and every individual is accountable for particular tasks. This is the classical bureaucratic organisation.
Task culture is represented by a net and it is job oriented. Some of the strands of the net are thicker or stronger and it can be pulled any way and regrouped. This means that resources can be obtained from all departments and normally such culture is existent in problem solving organisations and for short term projects. This type of culture is mostly attractive to young and dynamic people.
Finally, Handy illustrates the person or support culture that is depicted by a set of stars that operate independently and depend on the talent of the individual. In this type of culture, individuals are more concerned about themselves and the benefits they could personally reap, rather than the benefits of the system and the organisation as a whole. This could pose problems to the organisation and lead to its potential failure.

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