Concepts of Organizing

The working relationships — vertical and horizontal associations between individuals and groups — that exist within an organization affect how its activities are accomplished and coordinated. Effective organizing depends on the mastery of several important concepts: work specialization, chain of command, authority, delegation, span of control, and centralization versus decentralization. Many of these concepts are based on the principles developed by Henri Fayol.

Work specialization

One popular organizational concept is based on the fundamental principle that employees can work more efficiently if they're allowed to specialize. Work specialization, sometimes called division of labor, is the degree to which organizational tasks are divided into separate jobs. Employees within each department perform only the tasks related to their specialized function.

When specialization is extensive, employees specialize in a single task, such as running a particular machine in a factory assembly line. Jobs tend to be small, but workers can perform them efficiently. By contrast, if a single factory employee built an entire automobile or performed a large number of unrelated jobs in a bottling plant, the results would be inefficient.

Despite the apparent advantages of specialization, many organizations are moving away from this principle. With too much specialization, employees are isolated and perform only small, narrow, boring tasks. In addition, if that person leaves the company, his specialized knowledge may disappear as well. Many companies are enlarging jobs to provide greater challenges and creating teams so that employees can rotate among several jobs.

Chain of command

The chain of command is an unbroken line of authority that links all persons in an organization and defines who reports to whom. This chain has two underlying principles: unity of command and scalar principle.

  • Unity of command: This principle states that an employee should have one and only one supervisor to whom he or she is directly responsible. No employee should report to two or more people. Otherwise, the employee may receive conflicting demands or priorities from several supervisors at once, placing this employee in a no‐win situation.

Sometimes, however, an organization deliberately breaks the chain of command, such as when a project team is created to work on a special project. In such cases, team members report to their immediate supervisor and also to a team project leader. Another example is when a sales representative reports to both an immediate district supervisor and a marketing specialist, who is coordinating the introduction of a new product, in the home office.

Nevertheless, these examples are exceptions to the rule. They happen under special circumstances and usually only within a special type of employee group. For the most part, however, when allocating tasks to individuals or grouping assignments, management should ensure that each has one boss, and only one boss, to whom he or she directly reports.

  • Scalar principle: The scalar principle refers to a clearly defined line of authority that includes all employees in the organization. The classical school of management suggests that there should be a clear and unbroken chain of command linking every person in the organization with successively higher levels of authority up to and including the top manager. When organizations grow in size, they tend to get taller, as more and more levels of management are added. This increases overhead costs, adds more communication layers, and impacts understanding and access between top and bottom levels. It can greatly slow decision making and can lead to a loss of contact with the client or customer.

Authority is the formal and legitimate right of a manager to make decisions, issue orders, and allocate resources to achieve organizationally desired outcomes. A manager's authority is defined in his or her job description.

Organizational authority has three important underlying principles:

  • Authority is based on the organizational position, and anyone in the same position has the same authority.
  • Authority is accepted by subordinates. Subordinates comply because they believe that managers have a legitimate right to issue orders.
  • Authority flows down the vertical hierarchy. Positions at the top of the hierarchy are vested with more formal authority than are positions at the bottom.

In addition, authority comes in three types:

  • Line authority gives a manager the right to direct the work of his or her employees and make many decisions without consulting others. Line managers are always in charge of essential activities such as sales, and they are authorized to issue orders to subordinates down the chain of command.
  • Staff authority supports line authority by advising, servicing, and assisting, but this type of authority is typically limited. For example, the assistant to the department head has staff authority because he or she acts as an extension of that authority. These assistants can give advice and suggestions, but they don't have to be obeyed. The department head may also give the assistant the authority to act, such as the right to sign off on expense reports or memos. In such cases, the directives are given under the line authority of the boss.
  • Functional authority is authority delegated to an individual or department over specific activities undertaken by personnel in other departments. Staff managers may have functional authority, meaning that they can issue orders down the chain of command within the very narrow limits of their authority. For example, supervisors in a manufacturing plant may find that their immediate bosses have line authority over them, but that someone in corporate headquarters may also have line authority over some of their activities or decisions.

Why would an organization create positions of functional authority? After all, this authority breaks the unity of command principle by having individuals report to two bosses. The answer is that functional authority allows specialization of skills and improved coordination. This concept was originally suggested by Frederick Taylor. He separated “planning” from “doing” by establishing a special department to relieve the laborer and the foreman from the work of planning. The role of the foreman became one of making sure that planned operations were carried out. The major problem of functional authority is overlapping relationships, which can be resolved by clearly designating to individuals which activities their immediate bosses have authority over and which activities are under the direction of someone else.


A concept related to authority is delegation. Delegation is the downward transfer of authority from a manager to a subordinate. Most organizations today encourage managers to delegate authority in order to provide maximum flexibility in meeting customer needs. In addition, delegation leads to empowerment, in that people have the freedom to contribute ideas and do their jobs in the best possible ways. This involvement can increase job satisfaction for the individual and frequently results in better job performance. Without delegation, managers do all the work themselves and underutilize their workers. The ability to delegate is crucial to managerial success. Managers need to take four steps if they want to successfully delegate responsibilities to their teams.

1. Specifically assign tasks to individual team members.

The manager needs to make sure that employees know that they are ultimately responsible for carrying out specific assignments.

2. Give team members the correct amount of authority to accomplish assignments.

Typically, an employee is assigned authority commensurate with the task. A classical principle of organization warns managers not to delegate without giving the subordinate the authority to perform to delegated task. When an employee has responsibility for the task outcome but little authority, accomplishing the job is possible but difficult. The subordinate without authority must rely on persuasion and luck to meet performance expectations. When an employee has authority exceeding responsibility, he or she may become a tyrant, using authority toward frivolous outcomes.

3. Make sure that team members accept responsibility.

Responsibility is the flip side of the authority coin. Responsibility is the duty to perform the task or activity an employee has been assigned. An important distinction between authority and responsibility is that the supervisor delegates authority, but the responsibility is shared. Delegation of authority gives a subordinate the right to make commitments, use resources, and take actions in relation to duties assigned. However, in making this delegation, the obligation created is not shifted from the supervisor to the subordinate — it is shared. A supervisor always retains some responsibility for work performed by lower‐level units or individuals.

4. Create accountability.

    • Team members need to know that they are accountable for their projects. Accountability means answering for one's actions and accepting the consequences. Team members may need to report and justify task outcomes to their superiors. Managers can build accountability into their organizational structures by monitoring performances and rewarding successful outcomes. Although managers are encouraged to delegate authority, they often find accomplishing this step difficult for the following reasons:
    • Delegation requires planning, and planning takes time. A manager may say, “By the time I explain this task to someone, I could do it myself.” This manager is overlooking the fact that the initial time spent up front training someone to do a task may save much more time in the long run. Once an employee has learned how to do a task, the manager will not have to take the time to show that employee how to do it again. This improves the flow of the process from that point forward.
    • Managers may simply lack confidence in the abilities of their subordinates. Such a situation fosters the attitude, “If you want it done well, do it yourself.” If managers feel that their subordinates lack abilities, they need to provide appropriate training so that all are comfortable performing their duties.
    • Managers experience dual accountability. Managers are accountable for their own actions and the actions of their subordinates. If a subordinate fails to perform a certain task or does so poorly, the manager is ultimately responsible for the subordinate's failure. But by the same token, if a subordinate succeeds, the manager shares in that success as well, and the department can be even more productive.
    • Finally, managers may refrain from delegating because they are insecure about their value to the organization. However, managers need to realize that they become more valuable as their teams become more productive and talented.

Despite the perceived disadvantages of delegation, the reality is that a manager can improve the performance of his or her work groups by empowering subordinates through effective delegation. Few managers are successful in the long term without learning to delegate effectively.

So, how do managers learn to delegate effectively? The following additional principles may be helpful for managers who've tried to delegate in the past and failed:

  • Principle 1: Match the employee to the task. Managers should carefully consider the employees to whom they delegate tasks. The individual selected should possess the skills and capabilities needed to complete the task. Perhaps even more important is to delegate to an individual who is not only able to complete the task but also willing to complete the task. Therefore, managers should delegate to employees who will view their accomplishments as personal benefits.
  • Principle 2: Be organized and communicate clearly. The manager must have a clear understanding of what needs to be done, what deadlines exist, and what special skills are required. Furthermore, managers must be capable of communicating their instructions effectively if their subordinates are to perform up to their expectations.
  • Principle 3: Transfer authority and accountability with the task. The delegation process is doomed to failure if the individual to whom the task is delegated is not given the authority to succeed at accomplishing the task and is not held accountable for the results as well. Managers must expect employees to carry the ball and then let them do so. This means providing the employees with the necessary resources and power to succeed, giving them timely feedback on their progress, and holding them fully accountable for the results of their efforts. Managers also should be available to answer questions as needed.
  • Principle 4: Choose the level of delegation carefully. Delegation does not mean that the manager can walk away from the task or the person to whom the task is delegated. The manager must maintain some control of both the process and the results of the delegated activities. Depending upon the confidence the manager has in the subordinate and the importance of the task, the manager can choose to delegate at several levels.

Span of control

Span of control (sometimes called span of management) refers to the number of workers who report to one manager. For hundreds of years, theorists have searched for an ideal span of control. When no perfect number of subordinates for a manager to supervise became apparent, they turned their attention to the more general issue of whether the span should be wide or narrow.

A wide span of management exists when a manager has a large number of subordinates. Generally, the span of control may be wide when

  • The manager and the subordinates are very competent.
  • The organization has a well‐established set of standard operating procedures.
  • Few new problems are anticipated.

A narrow span of management exists when the manager has only a few subordinates. The span should be narrow when

  • Workers are located far from one another physically.
  • The manager has a lot of work to do in addition to supervising workers.
  • A great deal of interaction is required between supervisor and workers.
  • New problems arise frequently.

Keep in mind that the span of management may change from one department to another within the same organization.

The general pattern of authority throughout an organization determines the extent to which that organization is centralized or decentralized.

A centralized organization systematically works to concentrate authority at the upper levels. In a decentralized organization, management consciously attempts to spread authority to the lower organization levels.

A variety of factors can influence the extent to which a firm is centralized or decentralized. The following is a list of possible determinants:

  • The external environment in which the firm operates. The more complex and unpredictable this environment, the more likely it is that top management will let low‐level managers make important decisions. After all, low‐level managers are closer to the problems because they are more likely to have direct contact with customers and workers. Therefore, they are in a better position to determine problems and concerns.
  • The nature of the decision itself. The riskier or the more important the decision, the greater the tendency to centralize decision making.
  • The abilities of low‐level managers. If these managers do not have strong decision‐making skills, top managers will be reluctant to decentralize. Strong low‐level decision‐making skills encourage decentralization.
  • The organization's tradition of management. An organization that has traditionally practiced centralization or decentralization is likely to maintain that posture in the future.

In principle, neither philosophy is right or wrong. What works for one organization may or may not work for another. Kmart Corporation and McDonald's have both been very successful — both practice centralization. By the same token, decentralization has worked very well for General Electric and Sears. Every organization must assess its own situation and then choose the level of centralization or decentralization that works best.