Contingency Variables Affecting Structure

Most large organizations continue to use most or all of the departmental groups suggested by the early management writers. Black & Decker for instance organizes each of its divisions along functional lines, its manufacturing units round processes, its sales around geographic regions, and its sales regions around customer groupings. But a recent trend needs to be mentioned that is rigid departmentalization is being complemented by the use of teams that cross traditional departmental lines.

Today’s competitive environment has refocused the attention of management on its customers. To better monitor the needs of customers and to be able to respond to changes in those needs, many organizations give greater emphasis to customer departmentalization. We also see many more teams used as devices for accomplishing organizational objectives. Nearly all large companies use some form of team. As tasks become more complex, and diverse skills are needed to accomplish those tasks, management increasingly uses teams and task forces.

If we combine the basic organizational structural elements, we arrive at what most of the early writers believed to be the ideal structural design the mechanistic or bureaucratic organization. Today we recognize that no single organization structure is ideal for all situations.

The most appropriate structure to use will depend on contingency factor. In this article we address two generic organizations structure models and then look at the more popular contingency variables – strategy, size, technology, and environment.

How is a Mechanistic organization Different form an Organic Organization?

Exhibit below describes two organizational forms.

Mechanistic Organization:

The bureaucracy; a structure that is high in specialization, formalization and centralization

Mechanistic Versus organic Organizations:

1) Rigid hierarchical relationships
2) Fixed duties
3) Many rules
4) Formalized communication channels
5) Centralized decision authority
6) Taller structures


1) Collaboration(both vertical and horizontal)
2) Adaptable duties
3) Few rules
4) Informal communication
5) Decentralized decision authority
6) Flatter structures.

The mechanistic organization (or bureaucracy) was the natural result of combining the six elements of structure. Adhering to the chain of command principle ensured the existence of a formal hierarchy of authority with each person controlled and supervised by one superior. Keeping the span of control small at increasingly higher levels in the organization created tall, impersonal structures. As the distance between the top and the bottom of the organization expanded, top management would increasingly impose rules and relations. Because top managers couldn’t control lower level activities through direct observation and ensure the use of standard practices, they substituted rules and regulation. The early management writers’ belief in a high degree of work specialization crated jobs that were simple routine and standardized. Further specialization through the use of departmentalization increased impersonality and the need for multiple layers of management to coordinate the specialized departments.

Organic Organization:

A structure that is low in specialization, formalization, and centralization.

The organic organization is a highly adaptive form that is as loose and flexible as the mechanistic organization is rigid and stable. Rather tan having standardized jobs and regulations, the organic organization’s loose structure allows it to change rapidly as required. It has division of labor, but the jobs people do are not standardized. Employees tend to e professionals who are technically proficient and trained to handle diverse problems. They need few formal and little direct supervision because their training has instilled in them standards of professional conduct. For instance, a petroleum engineer does not need to be given procedures on how to locate oil sources miles offshore. The engineer can solve most problems alone or after conferring with colleagues. Professional standards guide his or her behavior. The organic organization is low in centralization so that the professional can respond quickly to problems and because top management cannot be expected to possess the expertise to make necessary decisions.