Henry Mintzberg’s Configurations Model of Organizational forms

Organizational structures are often formed based on certain organizational goals. The organisational goals are broken down into tasks which are then grouped into departments whereby each department perform specific tasks to achieve the specified goals. For instance marketing department may carry out advertising tasks in order to attain the goal of attracting new customers into the business. Other departments within organizations may include finance, customer care, production, human resources and supply chain. In each of these departments, there are always some distinctions between various tasks performed by employees. Departments also link up with each other to form organisational structure. The organizational structure enables the organization carry out its function in the marketplace or the industry to which it belongs. According to Greenberg (2011), organizational structure is the formal configuration between individuals and groups in terms of distribution of authority, responsibilities and specific tasks within the organisation.

Henry Mintzberg suggests that there are five structural configuration forms that exist in an organizational structure: simple structure, professional bureaucracy, machine bureaucracy, adhocracy and divisionalized form. These structural configuration forms exist on three basic dimensions of the organization: the key part, the prime coordinating mechanism, and the type of decentralization. There are various key parts of the organization including the strategic apex, operating core, middle line, technostructure and support staff. There are also five basic mechanisms of coordination: direct supervision, standardization of work processes, skills, outputs, and mutual adjustment. These forms and parts of organizational structure are in line with the definition of organisational structure which suggests that an organizational structure is a configuration of groups and individuals in terms of tasks and responsibilities within an organization. This essay outlines the parts, forces and forms of Mintzberg’s configurations model. It also analyses the arguments of Mintzberg about organizational forms and how he modifies his views on the configuration model.

The basic parts of an organization

There are five basic parts that coordinate the various tasks of an organization. They include the operating core, the strategic apex, the middle line, technostructure, and support staff. According to Mintzberg (1980), the operating core is the part of an organisation which includes all the employees involved in the production of products and services within the organization. This applies in modern organisations where employees with technical skills perform various tasks to produce goods and services, e.g. a carpenter making a chair for sale. A strategic apex refers to one or more full time manager who is responsible for overseeing the entire system (senior management). The middle line consists of managers between the operating core and the strategic apex. It is mainly common in complex organisations. Fourthly, a technostructure consists of analysts who pan and control the work of other people. Lastly, the support staff includes the employees who offer support indirectly to the rest of the organisation.

From this model by Mintzberg, it is clear that there are parts of an organization determined by organizational levels or line of management, including the low level (operating core), middle level (middle line), and top level management (strategic apex). Furthermore, there are other parts determined by types of staff including the technostructure and the support staff (Lemieux, 1998). These parts include internal and external coalition of employees who influence the organisation, its actions, and decisions.


Coordinating Mechanisms

Achievement of organisational goals depends on the coordination of various parts involved in the organisation structure. Mintzberg (1980) suggested various ways that organizations achieve coordination at work. They include: direct supervision, standardization of outputs, standardization of skills, standardization of processes, and mutual adjustments. These coordination mechanisms are intended to help in coordination of tasks through division of labour in order to achieve the mission of organizations.

Direct supervision involves giving specific orders and coordinating the work of employees through one individual (a manager). Standardization of processes involves the provision of standards that are imposed of standards to guide employees in performing specific tasks (Brickley et al, 2002). Such standards are imposed by analysts of the technostructure. In terms of standardization of output, analysts of the technostructure impose standard performance measures on the output of each task. Standardization of skills is a coordination mechanism which involves internalization by individuals of knowledge and skills before work begin. Lastly, mutual adjustment occurs when individuals coordinate their own work by communicating informally with each other (mintzberg, 1980). These coordination mechanisms are simply the forces that determine how work is done in order to achieve goals and objectives of the organisation.

Design Parameters

These are the mechanisms used by organisations to design their structures and promote division of labour and coordination. Mintzberg (1980) suggested the following nine parameters as the most common.

  • Job specialization – this is the main parameter used to determine the division of labor. It includes horizontal job specialization which involves the number and breadth of tasks, and vertical job specialization which involves the level of control over such tasks.
  • Behaviour formalization – this refers to the standardization of work processes through job descriptions, instructions, rules and regulation, etc.
  • Training and Indoctrination – this involves standardization of knowledge and skills through education outside the organisation and before starting work at the organisation (Lemieux, 1998).
  • Unit grouping – involves direct supervision and clustering of positions into units under the strategic apex. The groups are formed on the basis of markets and functions.
  • Unit size – this indicates the number of positions contained in each unit. According to Mintzberg (1980), the use of standardization for coordination leads to larger unit size.
  • Planning and control systems – this deals with the standardization of outputs. Action planning involves the predetermination of output based on actions or decisions, e.g. two stores be opened before 2015. Performance control involves measurement of the performance of all actions or decisions of a specific position or unit for a specific period, e.g. the percentage of reduction of expenses for the year.
  • Decentralization – this refers to the extent to which decision making is distributed among members of the organisation. Vertical decentralization refers to the level of distribution of decision making power to members down the chain of leadership. Horizontal decentralization refers to the informal flow of information outside the chain of authority.

Configurations of organizational structure

After providing the parts and forces that determine the achievement of goals in an organisation, Mintzberg identified different forms of configuration which determine the different structures of different organisations. Organizations which use similar forms of configuration follow a similar organisational structure. Mintzberg argues that the five elements of organisational structures including coordinating mechanisms and parts of the organisation combine to form five forms of configuration (Lemieux, 1998). In this case, each of the five parts of the organisation creates pulls in five different directions. However, conditions may favor one of the parts; leading to an organisation structure in one form of configuration. The following table summarizes the parts that result in each form of organisational structure.

Table 1: Mintzberg’s Five Configurations

Structural configuration Prime coordinating mechanism Key parts of the organisation Type of decentralization
Simple structure Direct supervision Strategic apex Vertical and horizontal centralization
Machine Bureaucracy Standardization of work process Technostructure Limited horizontal decentralization
Professional Bureaucracy Standardization of skills Operating core Vertical and horizontal decentralization
Divisionalized form Standardization of output Middle line Limited vertical decentralization
Adhocracy Mutual adjustment Support staff Selective decentralization

Simple structure

This is achieved when conditions favor a pull for centralization by the strategic apex. In this structure, direct supervision is used as a means for coordination. Table 1 above indicates that the coordination of a simple structure is enhanced through direct supervision. It is an organic structure which has a central operating core, little formalized behaviour, few members of support staff, loose division of labour, little technostructure, vertical and horizontal centralization (no decentralization), and minimal planning and training (Lemieux, 1998). From this analysis, it is clear that decisions in a simple structure are centralized and come from the central authority. This means that the strategic apex is the main part of the structure. One person is usually involved in decision making. There are a few instances of groupings which are often characterized by loose functions. Communication also flows from the central authority to everyone else in an informal manner. Decision making is also informal.

Mintzberg (1980) also argues that the environment of a simple structure is simple and dynamic, and can only be understood by one individual who sits at the strategic apex controls decision making. The dynamism of the environment makes the future state of the environment to be unpredictable or uncertain; hence the organisation cannot be able to implement coordination by standardization. Simple structure is neither sophisticated nor regulating – no delegation of technical decisions and no bureaucratization of the operating core.

The Machine Bureaucracy

From the figure above, Mintzberg (1980) suggests that the prime coordinating mechanism of the machine bureaucracy is standardization by work processes while its key part is technostructure. It is characterized by limited horizontal decentralization of decision making. The machine bureaucracy also has a highly specialized division of labor characterized by routine operations and formal procedures. The operating core also has large unit sizes. It also relies on functional basis to group its tasks into units. However, training and liaison devices are rarely utilized. Power and decision making is also relatively centralized but some action planning systems are utilized (Mintzberg, 1992). Line and staff are distinguished because the machine bureaucracy depends largely on standardization by work processes.

The Professional Bureaucracy

Unlike the machine bureaucracy that is centralized, professional bureaucracy is decentralized. This is because behaviour is coordinated by standardization of skills which allows for decentralization. Mintzberg suggests that Professional Bureaucracy is normally found in schools, accounting work firms, and manufacturing firms (Mintzberg, 1989). Training and planning are common in professional bureaucracy whereby professionals are given special training in the operating core and significant autonomy at work. Such professionals usually work independently of administrative hierarchy. Professional operators offer support to professional middle managers in order to give the middle managers some power. The professional bureaucracy is also characterized by minimal technostructure and highly elaborated support staff. Grouping of positions into units in proefessional bureaucracy is done on the bases of both functions and markets. Professional bureaucracy also operates in a complex and stable environment which demands the use of knowledge and skills learned through extensive training.

The Divisionalized Form

According to Mintzberg, this is a market-based structure in which there is a headquarters which oversees other divisions which serve different markets. Each division is autonomous, resulting in a limited parallel form of decentralization with a strong middle line. The coordination mechanism used in divisionalized form is standardization of output. There is little need for coordination; hence many divisions can report to the central headquarters. The central headquarters also uses performance control system to standardize products in order to coordinate the goals of divisions with its own without compromising the autonomy of the divisions. In a divisionalized form, there is a small headquarters technostructure that can be used to operate performance control system and a support staff including the units that serve all divisions.


This is an organisational structure which brings experts together from different specializations to form project teams that function smoothly. Adhocracy, like a simple structure, consists of an organic structure. There is little behavioral formalization and formal training which results in horizontal specialization (Mintzberg, 1980). Professional specialists in an adhocracy are grouped into functional units. The key coordinating mechanism of an adhocracy is mutual adjustment while its key part is the support staff. It also operates with a selective decentralization to various teams of line managers, operating experts, and staff who are located at different places in the organisation. Mintzberg (1980) also identifies two types of adhocracies: administrative adhocracy and operating adhocracy. Administrative adhocracy involves serving the organisation itself while operating adhocracy involves serving clients.

Modification of the views on Configuration model

Mintzberg (1980) modifies his own views of the configuration model by suggesting that there is a sixth configuration which may lead to modification of the configuration model; but it maintains the harmony of the theory. Initially, he symbolized the five configuration forms to the five senses, the five colours of the rainbow, and five planets. He then modifies this view and suggests that since the planets have turned out to be more than five and sixth sense is almost being recognized, a sixth configuration is also possible. The sixth configuration has a unique coordinating mechanism – coordination on socialization. This leads to prime coordinating mechanisms called standardization of norms. The main design parameter of the sixth configuration is indoctrination, and its key part is ideology. This key part of ideology indicates a move towards a sense of mission. Therefore, Mintzberg calls this sixth configuration a missionary configuration.


From the discussion of Henry Mintzberg’s configuration model, it is clear that organisations have different organisational structures based on different configuration of people and processes. The configuration model is an important model that can be used to explain how people and processes interact in organisations to enhance the achievement of goals and objectives of the organisation. From the configuration model, Mintzberg teaches us that there are key parts that play the most important role in the organisation’s activities. Configurations are formed from the key part that creates the highest pull in the organisation (Lunenbeurg, 2012). If the operating core creates the highest pool, then professional bureaucracy is formed. Each configuration has its own characteristics in terms of decentralization, key parts, and coordinating mechanisms. This therefore defines the organisational structure of an organisation. It is an appropriate model to be applied because different businesses serve different markets and perform different functions; hence they need different configurations to serve their customers effectively. For instance, when direct supervision is combined with decisions from a strategic apex a form of centralization is created, which forms a simple structure.

Like any other theory of organisational structure, the configuration model presents its own strengths and weaknesses. In terms of strengths, the configuration model is supported with examples of firm structures that apply in each form of configuration (Lunenbeurg, 2012). This gives the model validity and support as an appropriate model of organisational structures. For instance, Mintzberg suggests that mass production firms, simple service firms such as insurance, and government agencies are examples of Machine Bureaucracy. This informs readers of organisational structure and companies about the applicability of the model in real life. Another strength of the configuration model is that it involves the interactions of people, processes and output which are the main elements required in organisations to achieve organisational goals and objectives. Therefore, it covers all sections of a business adequately. In terms of weaknesses, configuration model ignores other factors that create pulls in an organisation including environmental factors such as government policies. In some cases, external pulls may become stronger than the operating core, strategic apex, support staff, middle line and technostructure of the organisation. This leads to confusion and misunderstanding on the form of configuration that may result from those pulls.


References list

Brickley, J., Smith, C., Zimmerman, J. L., & Willett, J. (2002). Designing organizations to create value: From strategy to structure. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Lemieux, V. (1998). Applying Mintzberg’s Theories on Organizational Configuration to Archival Appraisal. Archivaria, 46, 32-85.

Lunenbeurg, F.C. (2012). Organizational Structure: Mintzberg’s Framework. International Journal of Scholarly, Academic, Intellectual Diversity, 14(1), 1-8.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A Synthesis of the Research on Organization Design. Management Science, 26, (3), 322-341.

Mintzberg, H. (1989). Mintzberg on Management, Part 2: On Organizations. New York: The Free Press.

Mintzberg, H. (1992). Structure in fives: Designing effective organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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