Developing responsiveness through organisational structure
A UNISON case study

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Page 3: Managing organisational structures

Unison 17 Image 16The type of structure that a business has reflects how it behaves. It defines its culture or way of working. A highly centralised, hierarchical structure means an organisation is run from the top. It may have a well-known person at its head who makes most of the decisions. A decentralised structure is likely to create a much more democratic culture, where everyone’s opinion is valued. Decisions will often be made by groups of people or in consultation with different layers.

The national structure of UNISON is centralised with many decisions affecting the whole union made by the senior members and workers in the new UNISON centre. However, UNISON’s culture is one of equality. It is a culture that gives people freedom to express their views and to be part of decision making. Therefore, some power is given to the regions so that they can make decisions. Quite often the people in the regions will have a better idea of local needs. This decentralisation helps UNISON to be responsive at all levels.

‘I feel there is a genuine ‘no blame’ culture at UNISON. I am able to contribute my opinions to the highest level and be listened to and complimented on my work.’

Unison 17 Image 13Whatever the structure, there are certain key features that are common:

  • Span of control – the people for whom a manager is directly responsible. A narrow span means tight control; a wide span can provide more opportunity for employees to contribute. This can lead to better motivation. There are narrow spans of control in tall structures and wide spans of control in flatter organisations.
  • Chain of command – how authority passes down the organisation. It also shows who has power delegated (or passed down) to them.
  • Accountability – who makes decisions and takes responsibility for outcomes.
  • Communication channels – the way in which messages are passed up, down and across an organisation. It is also vital that the message is spread outside the organisation. For this, UNISON uses cutting-edge communication techniques. At the UNISON Centre for example, there is a media centre, plus television and radio recording facilities.

UNISON | Developing responsiveness through organisational structure