The Canadian academic, Henry Mintzberg, synthesised organisational design literature into five ideal organisational forms or configurations that do not exist in the real world, but provide consultants and managers a framework to understand and design organisational structures.
Mintzberg defined organisational structure as "the sum total of the ways in which it divides its labour into distinct tasks and then achieves coordination among them". Each configuration contains six components:
The components are linked by four flows:
The organisation's structure depends on the organisation itself, its members, the distribution of power, the environment and the technical system. Design decisions can be grouped into the:
Work constellations are quasi-independent cliques of individuals who work on decisions appropriate to their level in the hierarchy. These groups range from the formal to the informal.
Mintzberg used the components, flows, work constellations and coordination mechanisms to define five configurations:
1. Simple Structure
Entrepreneurial setting: relies on direct supervision from the strategic apex, the CEO.
2. Machine Bureaucracy
Large organisations: relies on standardisation of work processes by the techno-structure.
3. Professional Bureaucracy
The professional services firm: relies on the professionals' standardisation of skills and knowledge in the operating core.
4. Divisionalised Form
Multi-divisional organisation: relies on standardisation of outputs; middle-line managers run independent divisions.
Project organisations: highly organic structure with little formalization; relies on mutual adjustment as the key coordinating mechanism within and between these project teams. In later work Mintzberg added two more configurations:
6. Missionary Form
Coordination occurs based on commonly held ideologies or beliefs: standardisation of norms.
7. Political Form
No coordination form is dominant: control is based on forming alliances.
Each configuration represents a force that pulls organisations in different structural directions. For example, operators want to professionalize in their drive to control their work. Therefore, they favour a professional bureaucracy based on the standardisation of skills.
The structure an organisation chooses depends, to a great extent, on the power of each of Minzberg's six components.
The model provides a framework to analyse organisational structures in relation to the ideal types. It hands the consultant tools to design organisations, but the configurations should not be used as a blue print.
The model helps us understand how organisations change over time, how powers shift and how all this affects their structures.
Minzberg's classification is based on the assumption that formal and informal structures are intertwined and often indistinguishable from one other. Formal structures evolve over time and formalise changes in the informal structure.
The model provides an important synthesis of structural contingency literature.
The model does not provide operational guidance for organisational (re)design activities since it lacks a normative framework.
The model depends on contingency factors that influence structure. Contingency theory faces a variety of methodological problems: e.g. how possible it is to single out one factor from the complexities of reality and how these factors influence one another.
The model used an outside - inside process. The environment determines the organisation as if the organisation itself does not have the ability to make decisions.
Most organisations operate in dynamic and complex environments thus limiting the relevance of the model.