Organizational Structure

Organizational Structure: How Companies Get the Job Done

Building an organizational structure engages managers in two activities: job specialization (dividing tasks into jobs) and departmentalization (grouping jobs into units). An organizational structure outlines the various roles within an organizational, which positions report to which, and how an organization will departmentalize its work. Take note than an organizational structure is an arrangement of positions that’s most appropriate for your company at a specific point in time. Given the rapidly changing environment in which businesses operate, a structure that works today might be outdated tomorrow. That’s why you hear so often about companies restructuring—altering existing organizational structures to become more competitive once conditions have changed. Let’s now look at how the processes of specialization and departmentalization are accomplished.


Organizing activities into clusters of related tasks that can be handled by certain individuals or groups is called specialization. This aspect of designing an organizational structure is twofold:

  1. Identify the activities that need to be performed in order to achieve organizational goals.
  2. Break down these activities into tasks that can be performed by individuals or groups of employees.

Specialization has several advantages. First and foremost, it leads to efficiency. Imagine a situation in which each department was responsible for paying its own invoices; a person handling this function a few times a week would likely be far less efficient than someone whose job was to pay the bills. In addition to increasing efficiency, specialization results in jobs that are easier to learn and roles that are clearer to employees. But the approach has disadvantages, too. Doing the same thing over and over sometimes leads to boredom and may eventually leave employees dissatisfied with their jobs. Before long, companies may notice decreased performance and increased absenteeism and turnover (the percentage of workers who leave an organization and must be replaced).


The next step in designing an organizational structure is departmentalization—grouping specialized jobs into meaningful units. Depending on the organization and the size of the work units, they may be called divisions, departments, or just plain groups.

Traditional groupings of jobs result in different organizational structures, and for the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on two types—functional and divisional organizations.

Functional Organizations

A functional organization groups together people who have comparable skills and perform similar tasks. This form of organization is fairly typical for small to medium-size companies, which group their people by business functions: accountants are grouped together, as are people in finance, operations, marketing and sales, human resources, production, and research and development. Each unit is headed by an individual with expertise in the unit’s particular function. 

There are a number of advantages to the functional approach. The structure is simple to understand and enables the staff to specialize in particular areas; everyone in the marketing group would probably have similar interests and expertise. But homogeneity also has drawbacks: it can hinder communication and decision-making between units and even promote interdepartmental conflict. The marketing department, for example, might butt heads with the accounting department because marketers want to spend as much as possible on advertising, while accountants want to control costs.

Divisional Organizations

Large companies often find it unruly to operate as one large unit under a functional organizational structure. Sheer size makes it difficult for managers to oversee operations and serve customers. To rectify this problem, most large companies are structured as divisional organizations. They are similar in many respects to stand-alone companies, except that certain common tasks, like legal work, tends to be centralized at the headquarters level. Each division functions relatively autonomously because it contains most of the functional expertise (production, marketing, accounting, finance, human resources) needed to meet its objectives. The challenge is to find the most appropriate way of structuring operations to achieve overall company goals. Toward this end, divisions can be formed according to products, customers, processes, or geography.

Product Divisions

Product division means that a company is structured according to its product lines. General Motors, for example, has four product-based divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC.[1] Each division has its own research and development group, its own manufacturing operations, and its own marketing team. This allows individuals in the division to focus all their efforts on the products produced by their division. A downside is that it results in higher costs as corporate support services (such as accounting and human resources) are duplicated in each of the four divisions.

Customer Divisions

Some companies prefer a customer division structure because it enables them to better serve their various categories of customers. Thus, Johnson & Johnson’s two hundred or so operating companies are grouped into three customer-based business segments: consumer business (personal-care and hygiene products sold to the general public), pharmaceuticals (prescription drugs sold to pharmacies), and professional business (medical devices and diagnostics products used by physicians, optometrists, hospitals, laboratories, and clinics).[2]

Process Divisions

If goods move through several steps during production, a company might opt for a process division structure. This form works well at Bowater Thunder Bay, a Canadian company that harvests trees and processes wood into newsprint and pulp. The first step in the production process is harvesting and stripping trees. Then, large logs are sold to lumber mills and smaller logs are chopped up and sent to Bowater’s mills. At the mill, wood chips are chemically converted into pulp. About 90 percent is sold to other manufacturers (as raw material for home and office products), and the remaining 10 percent is further processed into newspaper print. Bowater, then, has three divisions: tree cutting, chemical processing, and finishing (which makes newsprint).[3]

Geographical Divisions

World map showing the regions of Adidas: Western Europe, Latin America, North America, and Asia Pacific
Adidas Headquarters1a

Geographical division enables companies that operate in several locations to be responsive to customers at a local level. Adidas, for example, is organized according to the regions of the world in which it operates. They have 5 different regions, and each one reports its performance separately in its annual reports.[4] 

Summing Up Divisional Organizations

There are pluses and minuses associated with divisional organization. On the one hand, divisional structure usually enhances the ability to respond to changes in a firm’s environment. If, on the other hand, services must be duplicated across units, costs will be higher. In addition, some companies have found that units tend to focus on their own needs and goals at the expense of the organization as a whole.

Image Credit

1a Adidas. (n.d.). Adidas Headquarters map [image].

  1. Associated Press (2010). “General Motors Rebuilds with 4 Divisions.” Retrieved from:
  2. Johnson and Johnson (2016). “Company Structure.” Retrieved from:
  3. Lakehead University Faculty of Natural Resources Management (2016). “From the Forest to the Office and Home: Bowater—A Case Study in Newsprint and Kraft Pulp Production.” Retrieved from:
  4. Skripak, S. & Poff R. (2020). Fundamentals of Business 3rd ed. Chapter 9


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