Linear structure

Linear structure
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Linear structure is a type of organizational structure where: every employee has only one superior (manager), the main bond between organizational levels is hierarchy, there is no specialization of managers, usually formalization is low and centralization high.

Genesis of linear structure

Linear structure belongs to the classic structural solutions. It has been used in military organizations, thousands of years ago. For example, in ancient Babylon and Roman army. The oldest written text concerning the creation of the linear structure is part of Exodus in the Old Testament.

Today linear structure in its pure, classical form occurs only in small companies, because this solution is characterized by a number of limitations (see below). It can be a step in the development of the organization.

Development of organizational structure

While the company is very small, usually the structure has radial shape. The owner in the middle manages all employees. If the company grows, the owner is not able to deal with every problem, therefore he delegates some managerial tasks to trusted employees. Those employees usually become managers. The further growth of the company leads to the situation when the owner leads only managers, not workers. That is situation of pure linear structure.

The further growth usually lead to creation of divisions, departments, matrices or other types of structures. The linear structure is inconvenient in large and dynamic organizations.

Construction of linear structure

Fig. 1. Linear organizational structure

In a linear structure, there are two types of positions: managers and employees.

  • The manager can lead a certain number of workers. The maximum number of workers is span of control.
  • In the organization with many levels of management, the higher-rank manager leads the lower-rank managers.
  • Every employee in the organization has only one superior, so that limits the possibility of conflicting commands.
  • In vertical communications (between manager and workers) a business route is used (see: communication problems below).

Communication problems in linear structures

Business route is a process of transfer of information through all levels of management along hierarchy lines. So, if an employee wants to pass information to the director of the company, before this, information has to be provided to a direct supervisor of the employee.

This carries the risk of diffusing the content of the information in the submission from the bottom level to upper levels, as well as the enrichment of the content of the information transferred from top level to bottom levels. Manager passes to upper levels only information it deems to be relevant. Transmission to bottom levels is often accompanied by additional instructions to complete a task. A large number of levels of management can cause problems with transmission of information. Therefore, managers should restrict in linear structure situations in which information must run through a lot of levels.

Disadvantages of linear structure

The disadvantages of linear structures include:

  • manager takes care of all functions, i.e. recruits, settles wages, evaluates, plans, etc.; therefore his knowledge must be quite extensive,
  • there is difficulty in adapting to changing operating conditions, such as the introduction of new legislation,
  • it promotes the centralization of power, limiting workers' initiatives,
  • there is risk of immobilization of the company as a result of the interruption of business routes (during the absence of a manager),
  • low flexibility causes problems during changes.

Advantages of linear structure

The main advantages of linear structures include:

  • simple and clear management roles,
  • allows to make quick decisions,
  • discipline among employees is easy to maintain,
  • ease of setting clear areas of competence and responsibility.