Mintzberg Organizational Structure

In his 1978 book entitled The Structuring of Organizations, author and management expert Harry Mintzberg explained that the “structure of an organization can be defined simply as the sum total of the ways in which it divides its labor into distinct tasks and then achieves coordination among them.

Understanding Mintzberg’s model of organizational structure

Mintzberg’s model of organizational structure posits that the structure of a company emerges from the interaction of three core dimensions and their various sub-factors.

While earlier organizational structure models were based on function, product, or strategy, Mintzberg posited that structure could be differentiated along three basic dimensions:

  • The key part of the organization the part of the organization with the most critical role in determining its success or failure.
  • The prime coordinating mechanism – the predominant method that the organization utilizes to coordinate activities. This encompasses factors such as direct supervision and standardization of skills, outputs, and work processes.
  • The type of decentralization – to what extent does the organization involve subordinates in decisions? Decentralization may be vertical (chain of command), horizontal (the extent to which non-administrators make decisions), or selective (the extent to which decision-making responsibility is delegated to other units).

The first dimension and its relationship to Mintzberg’s organizational configurations is worth explaining in more detail in the next sections.

The key parts of an organization according to Mintzberg

The five key parts of an organization are:

  1. The strategic apex – directors and senior executives who define and interpret the organizational mission and ensure it is aligned with strategic objectives.
  2. Middle line – the managers who translate strategic objectives into feasible plans. This may require them to set budgets, monitor performance, take corrective action, or purchase equipment.
  3. Operating core – who carry out day-to-day activities that deliver outputs. Working under senior managers, the operating core deals with external stakeholders and is responsible for the maintenance of quality and efficiency standards.
  4. Technostructure – a cohort comprised of individuals and teams working in key functions such as HR, training, and finance. 
  5. Support staff – these are individuals who work in support functions such as research and development, legal, and public relations. Support staff output does not contribute directly to the organization’s key objectives, but they do increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the middle line, operating core, and strategic apex.

Mintzberg’s five configurations of organizational structure

Based on the strategy an organization adopts and the extent to which it is practiced, Mintzberg identified five organizational configurations. Each configuration reflects different factors (and indeed varying degrees of these factors) from the three dimensions outlined above.

1 – The entrepreneurial organization (simple structure)

These organizations have a simple, flat, and centralized structure with sometimes autocratic power. This power emanates from the strategic apex and control is exerted by a small but influential team headed by a CEO.

Most companies start this way, but find that this fast, flexible, lean, and relatively informal model is difficult to maintain as they expand.

2 – The machine organization (machine bureaucracy) 

In a machine organization, work is formal and standardized with numerous routines and procedures. Decision-making is centralized, jobs are clearly defined, and procedures are routinely analyzed to improve efficiency. 

Machine bureaucracies are also characterized by tight vertical structures where functional lines extend to the top.

3 – The professional organization

Professional organizations rely on skills standardization rather than work processes or outputs to drive coordination. As a result, this structure is common in universities, hospitals, accounting firms, consultancy firms, and some tech companies.

Organizations under this configuration must relinquish considerable control – not only to the trained professionals but the institutions that trained them in the first place.

This causes a democratic and highly decentralized structure

4 – The divisional (diversified) organization

In what Mintzberg called a “divisionalized” structure, a small central team guides highly autonomous business units. This structure is common in multinational companies with numerous divisions or brands.

While decision-making is decentralized at the divisional level, note that there is little coordination between the divisions themselves. This means that in some cases, each division may more closely resemble a machine bureaucracy if viewed in isolation.

5 – The innovative organization (adhocracy)

Adhocracies utilize mutual adjustment as a means of coordination and maintain selective patterns of decentralization. Think of mutual adjustment as peers who are able to coordinate their own work and communicate with others.  

This structure tends to be informal and with a small technostructure because specialists are also involved in core operations. Since the primary goal of an adhocracy is innovation and adaptation, tasks are non-routine and tend to be reliant on technology. 

Key takeaways:

  • Mintzberg’s model of organizational structure posits that the structure of a company emerges from the interaction of three core dimensions and their various sub-factors.
  • Mintzberg posited that structure could be differentiated along three basic dimensions: the key parts of the organization, the prime coordinating mechanism, and the type of decentralization.
  • Mintzberg’s five configurations of an organization include the simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, divisionalized, and adhocracy.

Read Next: Organizational Structure.

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