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Flexible structures


S:\TripleA\DP_topic_packs\business management\student_packs\media_human_resources\images\competition_interconnected.jpgHenry Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University. Over several decades, he has examined the processes by which organisational structures and strategies are formed and has examined the extent to which strategy is deliberately created by management and the extent to which it 'emerges' as the result of the relationships between the style of leadership, the organisational structure and the external environment. 'Realised strategy' is a combination of deliberate and emergent strategy. Mintzberg's concept of emergent strategy ties in with the increasing emphasis on flexibility, adaptability, innovation and learning.

Traditionally, the purpose of strategy has been based on perceived need to reduce uncertainty. Mintzberg believes that "uncertainty is a characteristic of the world itself", and therefore strategies designed to reduce or eliminate uncertainty are likely to be ineffective at best and very possibly a risk to organisational survival. Businesses need to remain flexible to external change and their strategies need to adapt rapidly to maintain competitive advantage.

In an increasingly dynamic world, emergent strategy, with its acknowledgement that uncertainty is here to stay, addresses the current challenges of organisations and their management. For example, entrepreneurial organisations increasingly rely upon emergent strategy rather than formal planning processes. Strategy develops 'incrementally' - bit by bit. Mintzberg's reasoning suggests that young organisations with simple, but dynamic environments and technologies will be more effective if they rely on flexible structures and less effective if they rely on bureaucratic and formal organisational structures.

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Mould-breaking strategies grow initially like weeds; they are not cultivated like tomatoes in a hothouse.

Henry Mintzberg

Different structures arise from the different characteristics of these organisations, and from the different forces that shape them. There's no one "right" organisational structure, so it's important to understand how structure relates to the variety of attributes in a company.

Mintzberg - common structures

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Tom Peters

Another management guru, Tom Peters has written extensively on excellence in organisations and in his books such as , 'Thriving on Chaos', 'In Pursuit of Wow!' and 'Re-Imagine!', Peters presents a strategy for meeting the uncertainty of the current competitive markets through creating customer responsiveness, pursuing fast-paced innovation, achieving flexibility by empowering people, learning to work in an environment of change, abandoning conventional wisdom, and the development of flexible organisational structures.

Peters advocates flexible and flatter organisations, because they provide opportunities for more delegation and empowerment and are more adaptive to change.


For more detail on the work of Mintzberg, why not have a look at the Wikipedia page about him or the material in the Business Open Learning Archive?