Mintzberg’s Organisations

Let’s look at Henry Mintzberg’s organisations in a bit more detail.  In doing do, I’ll be applying my own interpretations which may not be quite how you will find them described by Mintzberg himself or in more academic works.  First, I want to expand a bit on what I see as the four discreet primary models:
Simple structure
This is how most small organisations start out.  Somebody might get an idea for a new venture and gathers a handful of people around him (or her), or a few folk get together as partners for it  – or even a combination where a few partners pull together a small team.  It doesn’t really matter how as the important feature is that it’s a fairly clear organisation that can be defined with a simple organisation chart: probably quite flat and superfluous as everyone in the organisation knows the set-up anyway.
 Whilst I won’t go as far as saying it would never work, it is very unlikely that a larger organisation could work effectively like this; larger being relative and depending on the people but rarely more than 20.
Machine bureaucracy
This is highly structured with standardised working – often the intention shown in common organisational charts.  This is the prevalent description for most businesses, whether or not it really applies to them. An extreme example where I believe it is an unequivocal description would be an army, which has a well defined hierarchy and command structure.  A bank or chemical refinery would be other examples but many organisations that have documented their structure like this may not actually work like it.  It’s the easiest structure to define when called upon to document it (for ISO9001 certification, for example) – but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way.
This is also the scheme I see most organisations migrate to as they grow out and need more than the Simple structure.
The essence of the machine is that each component has a specifica and well defined purpose, role and position in the command structure.  Work or standards are not negotiated – they are mandated by defined authorities and failure to adhere to them is seen as critical.
Professional bureaucracy
 With this, administration may be centralised but the organisation’s main services are delivered by professionals who work semi-autonomously.  In some ways it’s similar to the Simple structure in that there may not be a formally documented management system but it differs in that there is no central authority.  Think of a small consultancy or partnership (even a rural medical practice with, say, two doctors and a receptionist): each consultant or doctor is answerable to his or her professional body (or the national law) for how they conduct their work, not to any local manager.  As a practice grows and takes on more administrators to coordinate work (and cover tasks such as filing, stores, facilities/maintenance, etc), it may develop aspects of the Simple structure (or even a Machine bureaucracy) to address those activities, but the core professional aspects remain distinct.
In a large organisation, it may relate to one or more groups of professionals – perhaps a section of an hierarchical organisation chart that doesn’t quite fire the rest of it.  In many cases, there may be a tendency to try and avoid the mismatch by trying to force the Professional bureaucracy into a Machine bureaucracy pattern.  It can be done on paper but the essential difference described in the previous paragraph almost inevitably leads to problems.
Divisionalised or matrix structure
Here we see semi-autonomous units, possibly a mix of the preceding two types (Machine and Professional bureaucracies).  A project organisation would be like this with project teams drawn from a range of discipline groups.  Each engineer may be assigned to one or more projects, reporting to the respective project managers on a task basis and to their discipline leader (or an overall engineering manager, perhaps) on a functional basis.  In some respects, there are two or more super-imposed hierarchies and, unless this is recognised, the hierarchy that shouts the loudest will impose its order at the expense of the others – and to the detriment of the entire organisation.
These four models are quite distinct and, as we’ll see later, have their unique personalities and cultural needs.  The next model is one I see as different in that it has a dynamic aspect, especially temporally (it changes with time).
This is a structure that changes according to need but, at any particular time or place, it will most likely fall within one of the four primary models.  I’ve already mentioned that companies change models as they evolve but, in this case, the change is more fluid and frequent.  One primary model may only exist for a brief period, one too brief to establish itself before it changes.  It’s something I’m calling granularity – and the grains are so small, or have such indistinguishable boundaries, that we cannot stabilise on any primary model and need to treat the organisation as a special case – recognising and accepting, perhaps, that we will risk chasing shadows.
Another name for this is an Innovative structure – one that can rapidly change to meet a rapidly changing need.
MissionaryThis model was a later addition to describe an organisation whose overriding feature is that everyone is working towards the same idealistic principles.  Each person, or area, may have considerable freedom and autonomy in what they do and when and how they do it.  That doesn’t mean a lack of hierarchy or even formal structure – the key feature is a common goal and mutually accepted and agreed principles.  The commonly given example is a religious order.  Some authors now add a seventh, the Political structure but I remain unconvinced that it warrants a separate classification.