A U-form (unitary form) organizational structure describes a company managed as a single unit along functional lines such as marketing and finance. Conversely, an M-form (multidivisional) structure describes a company divided into multiple semi-autonomous units. Financial targets from a central authority control each unit.
|Structure Type||Type of Structure||Structure Details||Advantages||Drawbacks|
|U-Form (Unitary)||Unitary Structure||The U-form, or unitary structure, is a centralized organizational design where all decision-making authority is concentrated at the top of the hierarchy. There is typically one main division or department responsible for all key functions and decision-making.||– Clear lines of authority and accountability. – Efficient decision-making process due to centralization. – Alignment with a single vision and strategy.||Limited flexibility in responding to diverse market conditions or industry-specific needs. Potential bottleneck in decision-making at the top level. May not suit large or diversified organizations.|
|M-Form (Multidivisional)||Multidivisional Structure||The M-form, or multidivisional structure, is a decentralized organizational design where a large organization is divided into semi-autonomous divisions or subsidiaries, each with its own leadership and decision-making authority. Each division operates somewhat independently.||– Adaptability to diverse markets and industries. – Faster decision-making at the divisional level. – Specialization in specific business areas. – Risk and resource allocation at the divisional level.||Coordination challenges between divisions. Potential variations in strategies, practices, and culture across divisions. May require effective corporate-level coordination and oversight. Overhead costs related to managing multiple divisions.|
|Aspect||U-Form Organizational Structure||M-Form Organizational Structure|
|Definition||– U-Form Organizational Structure, also known as the Unitary or Unitary structure, is characterized by a centralized and hierarchical design where decision-making authority and control are concentrated at the top of the organization.||– M-Form Organizational Structure, also referred to as the Multidivisional or Divisional structure, is characterized by a decentralized approach where the organization is divided into multiple semi-autonomous divisions, each with its own decision-making authority.|
|Hierarchy||– In a U-Form structure, there is a clear hierarchy with a single, dominant central authority, typically represented by top management or a CEO. Subordinate units report to higher levels in a linear fashion.||– In an M-Form structure, the organization is divided into multiple divisions, each of which may have its own hierarchical structure. Each division operates with relative autonomy and reports to corporate headquarters.|
|Decision-Making||– Decision-making in a U-Form structure is centralized, with major decisions made at the top level. Subordinate units or departments typically have limited decision-making authority and implement top-down directives.||– M-Form organizations distribute decision-making authority among divisional heads or managers, allowing divisions to make decisions independently within their areas of responsibility.|
|Control||– Control in a U-Form structure is centralized, with top management closely monitoring and directing the activities of all departments or units. This central control ensures consistency and uniformity.||– M-Form organizations grant a degree of autonomy to divisions. While corporate headquarters retains overall control and oversight, divisions have more control over their operations and can adapt to local conditions.|
|Coordination||– Coordination in a U-Form structure is typically achieved through formal rules, procedures, and hierarchical reporting. Communication and coordination flow through the established hierarchy.||– In an M-Form organization, coordination often relies on divisional managers who are responsible for coordinating activities within their divisions. Corporate headquarters may facilitate coordination among divisions.|
|Specialization||– U-Form organizations may exhibit specialization within individual departments or units, but the centralization of decision-making can limit specialization to some extent.||– M-Form organizations often exhibit a higher degree of specialization within divisions, as each division can tailor its strategies and operations to specific markets or functions.|
|Flexibility||– U-Form organizations may struggle with flexibility and responsiveness to changing market conditions due to their centralized decision-making and control.||– M-Form structures can be more adaptable and responsive to diverse market conditions because divisions have more autonomy to make local decisions.|
|Risk Management||– Risk management in a U-Form structure is primarily the responsibility of top management. Centralized control may limit the organization’s ability to mitigate risks effectively.||– M-Form organizations often have a better capacity to manage risks because divisions can tailor risk management strategies to their specific markets or operations.|
|Communication||– Communication in a U-Form structure tends to follow formal channels and can be hierarchical. Top management’s directives are disseminated downward through the organization.||– In an M-Form structure, communication can be more fluid between divisions and corporate headquarters, allowing for better sharing of information and best practices.|
|Adaptation to Diverse Markets||– U-Form organizations may face challenges when entering diverse markets because they tend to have a single decision-making approach that may not be suitable for all markets.||– M-Form structures are better suited for diverse markets as divisions can adapt their strategies to local conditions, allowing the organization to enter and compete effectively in various markets.|
|Resource Allocation||– Resource allocation in a U-Form structure is centralized, and top management decides how resources are allocated across the organization.||– In an M-Form structure, resource allocation may involve divisional managers who have more control over resource allocation within their divisions, aligning resources with divisional strategies.|
|Corporate Culture||– Corporate culture in a U-Form structure is often highly centralized, with a strong emphasis on following top management’s directives and maintaining uniformity.||– M-Form organizations may exhibit more diverse corporate cultures, as each division may develop its own culture based on its specific market or function.|
|Examples||– Examples of U-Form organizations include small businesses, startups, and some government agencies where centralized control and decision-making are critical.||– Examples of M-Form organizations include large multinational corporations like General Electric (GE) or Procter & Gamble (P&G), which have multiple divisions operating in various markets.|
Understanding the U-form organizational structure.
The U-form organization relies on a functional approach to departmentalization and is often used to implement a single-product strategy. Developed during the railroad boom of the mid-19th century, the U-form structure was a great feat of organizational achievement. It helped rapidly growing companies manage their operations as scale and complexity increased. This gave rise to the first salaried managers with technical expertise and specialization.
This now conventional structure features a central management unit with several functionally organized departments. Decision-making is somewhat decentralized. Together with higher line authority, managers have the authority to delegate functional tasks to subordinates.
Since the U-form organizational structure emphasizes functional activities, coordination between each is crucial.
- Productivity. Functional specialization increases productivity through effective division of labor. For example, marketing specialists improve the performance of the marketing function and allow the company to expand through increasing managerial capacity. In turn, this reduces the workload of the CEO who is free to concentrate on more critical issues.
- Cost savings. Compared to other configurations, the costs of staffing each department in a U-form structure are significantly lower. The U-form structure facilitates a wide span of management, where single managers or supervisors oversee a large number of subordinates. This also helps the firm centralize authority.
- Control loss. As the company grows larger, there is a progressive reduction in the ability of management to control it. As information is passed down through various levels of management, it can be subject to deliberate or accidental distortion.
- Narrow focus. Since each senior manager is concerned with the efficient operation of their own functional area, they tend to devote less thought to wider company strategy. Worse still, senior managers may behave in such a way as to further their interests at the expense of others.
Understanding the M-form organizational structure
The M-form organizational structure became popular in the United States during the 1960s.
In the preceding decade, the post-war consumer boom saw the creation of new global mass markets for consumer goods. As a result, most organizations wanted to cash-in on this rapid growth by expanding into new markets and diversifying their product range.
This could only be achieved by utilizing the decentralized multidivisional business model seen in the M-form structure. Here, each business has a central office. But unlike the U-form structure, each functional division is allowed to make its own operational decisions.
History will show that the M-form structure allowed companies to manage a diverse range of products while maintaining efficiency and maximizing profit. The structure also enabled businesses to implement a corporate strategy of related diversification.
Pioneered by General Motors and DuPont, the multidivisional form is now the most widely used among large modern firms.
- An optimal level of centralization. Larger firms that enjoy distinct branding and economies of scale can also enjoy the operational flexibility of a much smaller firm. While a central authority still dictates general organizational direction, each division operates as its own entity. In other words, it is responsible for making a profit and catering to its own needs. This means it – and by extension, the company – can still operate if another division fails.
- Incentivization and accountability. If a specific division is underperforming then it is easy to hold a manager accountable. Increased accountability encourages management to perform, particularly when such performance is actively and transparently measured against competing divisions.
- Cost of management. With a greater number of managerial staff comes increased wage expenditure. This problem is exacerbated when one considers that the M-form structure favors specialization and expertise. While these qualities can drive growth, they also demand regular pay raises, bonuses, and other incentives.
- Function duplication. The duplication of functions can also increase operating costs by diluting the benefits of economies of scale. In some cases, the duplication of functions leads to a lack of standardization when one division undercuts another to receive performance incentives.
- A U-form (unitary form) organizational structure is used to implement a single-product strategy. Companies using this approach are managed as a single unit along functional lines such as finance and marketing.
- An M-form (multidivisional form) organizational structure describes a company divided into multiple functional divisions. Each division has some degree of autonomy from a central authority.
- During the post-war consumer boom, the M-form began to replace the U-form as the organizational structure of choice. This occurred as the M-form structure gave businesses the ability to expand into new markets with a diversified product range and maximize profits.
- U-Form Organizational Structure:
- Developed during the mid-19th century to manage growing companies during the railroad boom.
- Relies on a functional approach to departmentalization.
- Central management unit with functionally organized departments.
- Decision-making is somewhat decentralized.
- Emphasizes functional activities and coordination between departments.
- Advantages: Productivity through specialization, cost savings through centralized authority.
- Disadvantages: Control loss as the company grows, narrow focus on functional areas.
- Advantages of U-Form:
- Productivity: Functional specialization improves efficiency and managerial capacity.
- Cost Savings: Lower staffing costs due to wide span of management and centralization.
- Disadvantages of U-Form:
- Control Loss: Management’s ability to control decreases as the company grows.
- Narrow Focus: Senior managers may prioritize functional areas over broader company strategy.
- M-Form Organizational Structure:
- Became popular in the 1960s during the post-war consumer boom.
- Allows companies to diversify products and expand into new markets.
- Each business division has a central office and operational autonomy.
- Efficient management of diverse product ranges.
- Pioneered by General Motors and DuPont, widely used among large firms.
- Advantages of M-Form:
- Optimal Centralization: Allows operational flexibility while maintaining central direction.
- Incentivization and Accountability: Divisions are accountable for their performance.
- Disadvantages of M-Form:
- Cost of Management: Increased managerial staff leads to higher wage expenditure.
- Function Duplication: Duplication of functions can increase operating costs and lack standardization.
- Key Takeaways:
- U-Form: Used for single-product strategies, managed along functional lines.
- M-Form: Used for diversification and expansion, divisions have autonomy.
- M-Form replaced U-Form during post-war consumer boom for market expansion and diversification.
Read Next: Organizational Structure.
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Siloed Organizational Structures
Open Organizational Structures
Connected Business Frameworks
Organizational Structure Case Studies
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