The Elements of Structure

The basic concepts of organization design were formulated in the early 1900s by management writers who offered a set of principles for manager to follow. More than six to eight decades have passed since most of those principles were originally proposed. Given the passing of that much time and all the changes that have taken place in our society, you might think that they would be pretty worthless today. Surprisingly, they’re not. For the most part, these principles still provide valuable insights into designing effective and efficient organizations. Of course, we have also gained a great deal of knowledge over the years as to their limitations. In the following sections, we discuss the six basic elements of structure: work specialization, unity of command, span of control authority and responsibility, centralization versus decentralization and departmentalization.

What is work specialization?

A component of organization structure that involves having each discrete step of a job done by a different individual rather than having one individual does the whole job

Work specialization has been around for centuries in industrialized countries. In fact, back in the 1700s when economists Am Smith published Wealth of Nations, he advocated that jobs should be divided into smaller parts. In work specialization, a job is broken down into a number of steps, and each step in is completed by a separate individual. In essence individuals specialize in doing part of an activity rather than the entire activity. Installing only the mother boards and hard disk drives in a computer assembly lien is an example of wok specialization. So, too, are the specific tasks crew members perform each time they make a Bi Mac at McDonald’s.

Work specialization makes efficient use of the diversity of skills that workers hold. In most organizations, some tasks require highly developed skills others can be performed by those who have lower skill levels. If all workers were engaged in all steps of, say a manufacturing process, all would have to have the skills necessary to perform both the most demanding and the least demanding jobs. Thus, except when performing the most highly skilled or highly sophisticated tasks, employees would be working below their skill levels. In addition, skilled workers are paid more than unskilled workers, and because wages tend to reflect the highest level of skill, all workers would be paid to highly skilled rates to do easy tasks – an inefficient use of resources. This concept explains why you rarely find a cardiac surgeon closing up a patient after surgery. Doctors doing their residencies in open heart surgery and learning the skills usually stitch and staple the patient after the surgeon has performed by pass surgery.

Early proponents of work specialization believed that it could lead to great increases in productivity. At the beginning of the twentieth century and earlier that generalization was reasonable. Because specialization was not widely practiced, its introduction almost always generated higher productivity, but a good thing can be carried too far. At some point, the human diseconomies from division of labor surface as boredom, fatigue, tress, low productivity, poor quality, increased absenteeism and high turnover exceed the economic advantages.

By the 1960s, that point had been reached in a number of jobs In such cases, productivity could be increased by enlarging rather than narrowing the scope of job activities. For instance, successful efforts to increase productivity included giving employees a variety of activities to do, allowing them to do complete piece of work, and putting them together in teams. Each of these idea, of course runs counter to the work specialization concept. Yet, overall work specialization is alive and well in most organization today. We have to recognize the economies it provides in certain types of jobs, but we also have to recognize its limitations.