Conceptual Models of Organizational Design

·    Organizational design refers to how the different roles and responsibilities are divided across the institution, both at the individual level and departmentally.  From there, processes are put into place to ensure institutional efficiency (Bess & Dee, 2012a).  There are several structural ideologies to consider when creating an organizational design.  Structures can happen by design or by natural emergence.

o   Differentiation refers to the specialization of the various subunits within an organization.  This segmentation happens because the subunits develop particular attributes in response to the external environment (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967).  An institution with a high number of departments that serve unique roles will have a high level of differentiation, typically designed by their function within the college.  While these structures can create an opportunity for efficiency within a unit, they can also allow the subunits to become isolated from one another.  Through suboptimization, the subunits become focused on their own agendas and can lose sight of the institutional mission (Bess & Dee, 2012a, 177).

o   Integration through vertical and horizontal coordination allows for specialization within a subunit while also creating a connection with other subunits.  The outcomes and efforts are linked from one subunit to another (Bess & Dee, 2012a).  This allows for unity to be achieved because of the effort of the different subunits, all working towards the organizational mission (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967).  This coordination can be done amongst peer groups through horizontal coordination.  An example would be the Registrar’s Office must complete the processing of a student’s application materials before an advisor can accurately advise the student on the appropriate courses to register for.  Similarly, vertical coordination refers to the relationship that exists between lower level subunits with their senior units.  The coordination can be top down or bottom up.  When a subunit becomes dependent on another, this relationship can become one of power (Bess & Dee, 2012b).

·       Alternative designs on the organizational design:

o   Organic: A low degree of structure; loosely defined rules, decentralized power to encourage teamwork and buy in from lower level employees (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967).

o   Mechanistic: Rigidly defined tasks and responsibilities focus on hierarchal roles and a central authority (Bess & Dee, 2012a).

·       Determinants of Organizational Design—five independent variables:

'1.     'External Environment: an effective institution understands the needs of the external environment and creates internal processes to best serve its constituency.  An institution that fails to follow the external cues becomes ineffective.

'2.     'Technology can be applied to a system, a group, and/or an individual.  When the needs are simple and standardized, routine technologies can be employed.  As the processes become more individualized, nonroutine technologies are used.

'3.     'Goals: As organizations work to achieve goals, they create benchmarks to compare their own achievements against other institutions or subunits (Bess & Dee, 2012a).  Their goal orientation is developed towards the relevant subunit (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967).  Official goals are the advertised mission of the college, while real goals can refer to the institutional practice.  These tend to be mechanistic in their design (Bess & Dee, 2012a).

'4.     'Culture can determine an organizational design.  A trusting environment can develop organically, which encourages collaboration.  A competitive culture can result in the emergence of a mechanistic design, where a central authority may be needed to keep the organization on task (Bess & Dee, 2012a, 190-91).

'5.     'Size matters when it comes to organizational designs.  Large institutions may have difficulty implementing coordinated efforts and integration among subunits.  In smaller institutions, differentiation is not a viable design, as staff and departments perform many functions and might not be able to develop a single specialization.

·       Interdependence refers to how individuals and departments rely on each other.

o   Pooled interdependence refers to individual units independent of one another, however the success or failure of one impacts all.

o   Sequential interdependence is a “long-linked technology” (Bess & Dee, 2012a, 192) where one process must be completed before it can move to the next.

o   Reciprocal interdependence is how the inputs and outputs of one department impacts another, and then back again.  Bess and Dee (2012a) refer to the collaboration between the Registrar’s Office and an academic unit needing to know enrollment numbers in order to create the correct number of sections and assign classrooms in a given semester.


Bess, J. L., and Dee, J. R. (2012). Understanding college and university organization: Theories for  effective policy and practice; Volume I-the state of the system.  Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Lawrence, P. R., and Lorsch, J. W. (1967).  Differentiation and integration in complex organizations.  Administrative Science Quarterly, 12(1), 1-47.

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