Mechanistic Organizations | (2023)

In his 1961 bookinnovation managementBurns and Stalker found that mechanistic organizations are often found in stable environments and are suited to routine tasks and technologies. Mechanistic organizations somewhat resemble bureaucratic structures, with clear, well-defined, centralized, vertical hierarchies of command, authority, and control. Efficiency and predictability are emphasized through specialization, standardization, and formalization. This results in firmly defined tasks, technologies and processes. The term "mechanistic" suggests that organizational structures, processes and roles are like a machine in which each part of the organization does what it is designed to do but little else.

It is easy to confuse mechanistic and bureaucratic organizations as there is significant overlap between the two. But despite the overlaps, the fundamental difference between mechanistic organizations and bureaucracies is the reason for using both. The purpose of bureaucratic structures is to protect lower-level management positions from arbitrary actions by owners and top managers. For example, in a bureaucracy, a person holding the position of Vice President of Manufacturing would be protected from massive changes in hours, wages, and duties by formal rules, regulations, and grievance procedures. The purpose of bureaucracy is to protect positions in an organization.

Mechanistic organizations, on the other hand, are used to increase efficiency when tasks and technologies are relatively stable. The vice president of manufacturing in a mechanistic organization would use production processes and techniques that minimize waste and maximize output given a given amount of input. The goal of mechanistic structures is efficiency. So the premise of bureaucracy is protection, while the premise of mechanistic organizations is efficiency. Of course, the two aren't mutually exclusive; An organization can be both bureaucratic and mechanistic. On the other hand, many examples of inefficient bureaucracy quickly surface, suggesting that while there are overlaps between the concepts, there are also differences.

Burns and Stalker focused on the difference between mechanistic structures and organic structures, which they defined as more fluid and interactive. Recently, attention has shifted to organic systems, praised for their flexibility and friendliness. In his 2008 articleCultivate an organic organization,This is done by Dr. Ben CarlsenFrom the boardroom to the supermarket, organic products are healthierBecause they have the characteristics of a living organism, an organic organization strives for the best and the greatest possible synergySpiel'

Mechanistic structures, on the other hand, are highly formalized, which means that nearly all processes and procedures have been administratively approved. The organization views processes and procedures that go beyond established protocols as deviations to be controlled. Such a formalization is performance-oriented; Reducing variance increases predictability, and increasing predictability improves performance. Examples of selling a product or service are the processes a salesperson uses when presenting it to a customerCredit cardor how to deal with customer returns. Examples related to the production and assembly of products or services include how a book publisher manages the workflow from finished manuscript to final binding, and how Dell Computers manages the assembly of custom PCs.decision makingis largely related to the application of an appropriate predetermined rule, policy, procedure or criteria.

When a mechanistic organization accepts innovation and the implementation of new practices, it does so through its formalized channels. Like Chapman in 2007Research Guide to Management AccountingThe mechanistic structure enables companies to implement new policies quickly and efficiently. Innovations are easily communicated across the organization and plans are implemented to the letter. While this encourages process adoption, it also makes it more difficult for a mechanistic organization to change direction during innovation or abandon one idea in favor of another during transformation.

Mechanistic organizations also have environmental and technological stability, allowing work to be well defined and differentiated. The work of the organization is divided into concrete, precise tasks. Specialist job titles are based on one or more of these specific jobs and precisely define the required skills, job methodology and procedures to be used, and specific duties and authorities. As a result, lower-level managers and other employees simply follow procedures, which can have the side effect of stifling creativity while increasing the efficiency of established processes. In stable environments, however, it may be worth suppressing creativity to improve performance. For example, few customers would wish for a McDonald's employee to show creativity when preparing a hamburger. Instead, when the worker follows established procedures and customers can have confidence that every hamburger they buy will taste the same, the repeatability and stability of the processes required to make a hamburger are more efficient.

But special tasks are repetitive and can be boring at times. For example, in the Sam's Club store, a person is at the door to perform a task

Identification of customer receipts. Because employees often work separately and with little interaction, it is often difficult for them to see how a small, specialized task relates to the overall goals of the organization.

In addition, the work of mechanistic organizations tends to be impersonal. Workplaces are focused on the task, not the person. When selecting, deploying and promoting personnel, it is important that they have the necessary skills to perform specific tasks. Other people, like interchangeable parts in a machine, can replace people in a given position.

The specialization extends to the entire organization. The positions are grouped into specialized work units and ultimately into specialized functional departments such as production, marketing or finance. Each organizational unit has clearly defined areas of responsibility and goals. Communication is predominantly vertical, with more emphasis on downlink directions than uplink directions. Issues such as goals, strategies, guidelines and procedures are defined by top management and passed on as instructions and decisions for implementation.

Upward communication typically involves the transmission of reports and other information to management for consideration, usually at the request of management. Coordination occurs within the chain of command. For example, top management is responsible for coordinating functional departments, such as integrating marketing sales forecasts into production plans. Within a department, the department head is responsible for coordination between the department's sub-divisions; e.g. coordinates the raw stock requirements of the production manager with the stock of work in progress.

At least two criticisms concern mechanistic organizations. First, mechanistic organizations tend to ignore human needs and dynamics by focusing on task-related issues such as efficiency and standardization. Second, creativity, and therefore innovation, is limited by the rigidity of standardization and formalization. Therefore, the appropriate environment for mechanistic organizations is a stable environment, while rapidly changing environments require greater flexibility. For such environments, Burns and Stalker recommend an organic organizational model. Highly mechanized companies operating in rapidly changing environments are at risk of obsolescence as competitors sacrifice maximum efficiency for flexibility in dealing with new environmental conditions.

However, authors such as Robert Waldersee and Andrew Griffiths have argued that certain changes in the business world are creating an ever-increasing environment for mechanistic organization. Waldersee and Griffith posit that the advent of globalization will benefit mechanistic organizations that can identify and respond to problems more effectively than less rationalized organic models. In this regard, authors such as Brad Moore and Alan Brown have suggested that newer business models developed for organic organizations perform equally well in mechanistic firms. In a 2006 article on TQM (Comprehensive quality management) suggest that mechanistic organizations should have no problem implementing practices such as TQM that are believed to require a more fluid approach. This suggests that mechanistic organizations are beginning to incorporate adaptability into their formalized structure.

SEE ALSO efficiency and effectiveness; environmental organizations; organizational theory; organizational behavior; organizational structure


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Cardinal, LB, SB Sitkin, and C.P. Long.Balancing and rebalancing the creation and development of organizational control. organizational science15, Nr. 4 (2004): 411432.

Carlsen, Dr. Ben A.Cultivate an organic organization. EzineArticles.comAvailable at:

Chapman, Christopher S., wyd.accounting manual Management studiesAmsterdam: Elsevier Science, 2007.

Martin P. and T.C. armies.Product line management in professional organizations: an empirical test of competing theoretical perspectives. Journal of the Academy of Management47, Nr. 5 (2004): 723735.

McAdam R and B Lafferty.A Criticism of the Six Sigma Multilevel Case Study: Statistical Control or Strategic Change? International Journal of Business and Production Management24, Nr. 5 (2004): 530549.

Moore, Brad. Braun, Alan.Application of TQM: organic or mechanistic? International Journal of Quality and Reliability ManagementTie. 23rd edition 7. 2006. p. 721742. London: Tavistock, 1961.

Waldersee, Robert. Griffiths, Andrzej.Predicting the success of organizational change: mapping of organization type, change type, and opportunity Journal of Applied Management and EntrepreneurshipJanuary 2003

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