In reading Henry Mintzberg’s article, Organization design: fashion of fit? (1980), I was pleased that it was so easy to follow, that his concepts included examples that I could understand, and it was well organized. Mintzberg was clear, to the point, and engaging in his writing. Even though the article was published in the Harvard Business Review, it was written at a level that the average college student could understand, even a non-business major.
Mintzberg begins by tackling the assumption that too many people make: all organizations are alike. Indeed, they are not. He also clearly points out that if one element of an organization is changed, it does affect the entire organization. He then explains his theory of the five basic parts that organizations possess: a strategic apex, an operating core, a middle line, a technostructure and the support staff. The person with the initial vision is the strategic apex and makes up the top management. The operating core is the main workforce of the operation. The middle line are the middle managers. The technostructure is the analysists and the support staff provides the rest of the work force with indirect services such as human resources and marketing materials. Some organizations do not utilize all of these parts and some blend these roles. The main point is that the work of these areas must be coordinated in some manner and that is what dictates the organizational structure.
For the purposes of this assignment, the two structures that Mintzberg describes in his article that I will discuss are the simple structure and the machine bureaucracy models. The example I will use for the simple structure is a local family run restaurant such as a pizza shop or a Chinese restaurant. The example I will use for the machine bureaucracy is the restaurant chain, Subway. Yes, food is on my mind while working on this assignment.
Simple structure organizational systems consist of a small group of workers managed by one or two managers. What basically defines a simple structure is not what is present, but what is lacking in the system. There is little planning or training of employees beyond what is needed to carry out their current job specific duties. There is no emphasis on future growth or development in the company, because it does not exist. What an employee is doing today is what that employee will be doing tomorrow. There is no need for middle managers. The strategic apex person or persons, the initial entrepreneurs who began the business and who are managing the business, are directly supervising the employees. In some ethnic backgrounds or some neighborhood communities, many or all of the employees are also family members, so they have a vested interest of family pride in wanting the business to be successful.
Think about a traditional, small, family run restaurant that you patronize. Let’s say it is a pizza shop. You enter the shop and sit down at your favorite booth. You prefer this booth because it is facing the kitchen, so you have something to look at after you order and while you wait for your food, just in case the conversation with your company gets a little dull.
You pick up the menu, which has changed little in the decade that you have come to the shop. You decide to get the veal parmesan dinner, a favorite of yours that you never bother to make for yourself at home. After a few minutes, Carmalena, your favorite waitress, the owner’s daughter, comes over to take your order. She started working here at 17 when the shop opened. She is now 27 and expecting her second child. You place your order, including a salad with the house dressing and water, and your sister orders a salad and baked ziti.
Knowing it will probably be about 20 minutes, you and your sister talk about what has happened in the past week since you have seen each other. You look up every couple of minutes and notice what is going on in the kitchen. Nino, the owner, is cooking and talking to his son, the other cook, in Italian. His other son, Michael, is washing dishes. Carmalena is waiting on tables. Francesca, Nino’s wife, is handling the register and the take-out orders, the phone, and wrapping silverware in napkins. Gaetano, their nephew, 12, is bussing tables and sweeping the floors. Except for Nino talking to his sons, none of the other family members need to interact with one another about job duties. They seem to run the shop flawlessly, each knowing what needs to be done. They joke around a little; appear to be happy, even though they appear to be quite busy. Gaetano’s father, Michael, stops in, sees that they are busy, and takes off his jacket, puts on an apron, and jumps in to help out with the pizza making duties without even being asked. He works full-time during the week, and sometimes on the weekends, doing construction. Francesca is his sister, and this is family, so it is assumed that he will help out when he can.
Our drinks had been brought out immediately, our salads had come out in about five minutes, and our food was served in just less than 20 minutes. The plates were piled high, especially with pasta. Garlic bread had been added, with Nino’s compliments, as we are good customers. Freshly grated cheese was offered and accepted, a tray of fresh spices delivered, refills promptly given, and smiles the whole time. As always, the food was delicious. The quality of the product is what the family’s reputation is based on in the neighborhood. They are proud of the food they create and share in their restaurant.
If this type of restaurant becomes successful and grows greater than several locations, the managing style will usually transform into a different style, as the simple style will no longer be effective as the staff, number of locations, and other elements begin to grow. In this industry, this will frequently, but not always, develops into a machine bureaucracy style of management. That is why this seemed a natural transformation for my next example and why I chose to stay in the restaurant business, but a very different approach.
Subway restaurants are now the leading restaurant franchise in the United States as far as the number of shops that are operating in the country. Even though the average Subway restaurant generates only 8-10 jobs, about the same as the local family restaurant discussed in the simple structure model earlier, when looking at the overall structure of the corporation, it does fall under the machine bureaucracy model. The difference of the management in the number of locations is what is going to be the main focus of this study.
Subway is successful, as are many chain restaurants, because of the standardization process. When a customer goes into any Subway location in the United States and places an order for a particular type of sandwich, ideally, the end product, the completed sandwich, should be identical as possible. The consumer has the same expectations no matter where the consumer happens to be in the country. That is why Subway has drawn that customer in, the expectation, the knowledge of what the end result will be.
Assuming all of you have been to a Subway, I expect you have had the same experience. When entering the shop, you are greeted by one of the sandwich artists with a smile and a “hi” or some other friendly saying. You get in line, which usually moves quickly. When it is your turn, the friendly, smiling artist asks what you will be having. If you are having a sandwich, the artist will ask which type of bread you would like, a 6” or 12” sandwich, and which type would you like. Then you are walked down the line and asked about which cheese you prefer, would you like it toasted, which vegetables, spices, condiments you would like, is it for here or to go, would you like it to be a meal with a drink and a side, and what else could they do to help you today. Throughout the whole ordering process they talk to you only and always with a smile. The artist is very customer focused and tries to make you feel special. Your sandwich is custom made. It is supposed to be all high quality, fresh ingredients. That is their mission for the customers every visit.
The structure of a typical Subway franchise is as follows:
Key Means of Coordination: Duplication of work across all shops, follow procedure
Key Part of Organization: Technostructure – follow the design given – no variations
Includes store design and décor, uniforms, paper products
Although there are many differences in the five models that Mintzberg proposes, there are some similarities as well. The two examples that were shared here, the family restaurant and the 8,000+ franchise chain, are good examples as the two shops are frequently similar in size as far as square footage is concerned, have about the same number of employees, but the expectations are quite different. The start-up costs of both restaurants are about the same, but with a Subway there are also the $15,000 franchise fee and the design and implementation plans that must be followed. These include the food, the displays, the design and décor, the pricing, the paper products, the specials, and every other aspect. The owner is given a template to follow. There is little creativity to follow (subway.com, 2012). In a family restaurant business, the owner has the vision, the strategic apex, and can follow that dream with the design, the menu, the pricing, the décor, and other aspects of the business. That allowance for creativity is why the family business follows the simple structure. Subway, since it follows a template provided by the corporation, follows the machine bureaucracy model, since its choices are limited (Mintzberg, 1980).
Mintzberg, H. (1980). Organization design: Fashion or fit?. Harvard Business Review.
Smith, D. (2011). The Subway effect. Executive Insights. November 2011. Retrieved from: