Developing responsiveness through organisational structure
A UNISON case study

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Page 2: The structure of an organisation

Unison 17 Diagram 11Organisational structure refers to how the workers within a business are organised and how they relate to each other. A visual representation of the structure can be shown in an organisation chart. This shows who has authority over whom and the different roles that workers carry out.

Certain organisational structures suit particular types of organisations. This will depend on the size of the business, its aims and the way it sees itself (known as its corporate culture or image). It may also be affected by factors outside of its control (external factors) such as the nature and spread of its customers.

Structure is often linked to the type of business. For example, it could be organised by:

  • product - for instance, a chemical company could be split into paints and plastics
  • function - for instance, departments of finance, marketing, human resources and operations
  • geography - this could be by UK region or even internationally, e.g. Europe, Asia, America.

Types of structures

It is important for a business to choose a structure that helps it operate efficiently. The structure should also help to achieve the organisation’s aims and objectives and make best use of people and resources.

The main types of business structure are:

  • Hierarchical (tall) structure. This means that the business is organised in layers, with the higher layers having more authority than those below them. The advantage of a tall structure is that every role is clearly defined. Decisions can be made quickly by those at the top of the organisation but communication may be slower as the message has to pass through all the layers.
  • Horizontal or flat structures. Here there are fewer layers and more people in each layer. Decision making may need to take account of several groups within a layer. However, communication is usually more effective. Flat structures often work well with skilled and motivated workers.
  • Matrix structures. Sometimes the business needs to use people with a variety of skills who are drawn from many parts or functional areas of the business such as marketing, operations, finance and human resources. These can be organised into teams to complete projects.

Structure of UNISON

Unison 17 Image 17UNISON has a complex structure that reflects the complex nature of the work that it carries out. Its structure is split by function and by region. UNISON’s 1,100 staff work in either its new centre on Euston Road in London or in one of the 12 UK regions.

Within each region there are employees responsible for different areas of the union’s work. These areas include health, learning and development, and local government and education. The members are organised into branches throughout Britain and Northern Ireland. This tall structure helps it to act quickly and respond to changes:

  • The National Executive Council, which is elected by members, can focus on policy and providing leadership.
  • The UNISON Centre concentrates on providing a range of services to members and the regions such as legal, financial and personnel services.
  • Regional employees can deal with issues particular to their geographical area, e.g. when a local employer announces redundancies.

UNISON | Developing responsiveness through organisational structure