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Size as a determinant of organizational structure

management, business, organizational structure, organizational size, planning, managing, leading, controlling, directing, staffing

The most frequently discussed static element of structure is size, which is also a determinant of structure. It is obvious that large organizations influence the people in them (and outside of them) differently than do small organizations. People in large organizations, however, protect themselves from influences of monumental size by subdividing. Size thus influences both horizontal and vertical differentiation, two facets of complexity, another structural characteristic. Successful organizations born in basements and garages find themselves not only expanding but subdividing into production, marketing, personnel, and other departments.

Size probably influences people most when they first join organizations. A familiar adjustment to size occurs when students enter large universities. Coming from high schools of several hundred to a few thousand students, many first-year college students are overwhelmed by the sheer size of a university campus that may have from 10,000 to 30,000 students. Soon, however, the newcomers categorize their environment, using cognitive, emotional, and intuitive processes. Investigations of how people categorize in organizations are not readily available, but the process may be similar to how people map cities such as New York and Paris. In a series of studies it was shown that such factors as architectural or social distinctiveness highlight an area enough to place it on a person's cognitive map of a city. Thus, in New York City, Columbus Circle and Rockefeller Center are remembered because of their architectural characteristics; Chinatown and Little Italy because of their cultural features.

Newcomers to an organization, then, will probably first become familiar with that which is distinguished from the rest of the organization, such as high-profile or distinctive individuals, units, or spaces. Thus an active manager stands a better chance of being noted than her office-bound, isolated colleague.

There are almost as many ways to categorize organizations by size as there are kinds of organizations. Financial institutions may measure size by assets, deposits, loans, number of employees, or number of branches. Airlines, such as American or Delta, use passenger miles, number of employees, or number of aircraft. Perhaps the major generalization one can make about size is that, in most cases, the larger the organization the more complex its structure.

Published: 2007-04-14
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

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