Lateral Structures

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Organizations are continuing to seek out ways in which they can increase effectiveness and performance. One of the definitive ways this can be done is through having the correct organizational structure. There are several different types of organizational structures that are used worldwide by businesses and corporations. These types include bureaucratic, pre-bureaucratic, post-bureaucratic, divisional, functional, horizontally linked as well as matrix. The basic definition of an organizational structure is how the employees and staff cohesively operate. The bureaucratic organizational structure is the most commonly used formal because it utilizes a lateral arrangement. Essentially, when viewing it from an organizational chart perspective, the lateral format is reflected as a chain of command in the formation of a triangle.

Prior to deciding upon a structure, management at an organization must decide the different facets and benefits associated with communication, specialization, authority levels and ways to solve problems. In doing so, the manager can effectively create job descriptions that adequately meet the needs of the organizations. Moreover, by considering and establishing these factors beforehand, it ensures coordination for both activities and tasks, policies and procedures for the company, and ways of evaluating performance. Furthermore, it engenders hierarchical relationships between managerial leaders and employees - building organizational morale. The arrangement then is planned intentionally to be formal in the sense that people and their respective behaviors operate best on these types of relationships, especially in the area of business (Morhman, 2007). While psychological and social forces do affect the structure or rather can affect them, the structure of an organization and its respective format provides the foundation for the organization.

Webster (2013) states that lateral structural arrangements within an organization are usually integrated into another type of structure that was already in place rather than the organization seeking to alter the structure. There are several advantages to the lateral structure that include open communication and team morale (p.1). Open communication is strengthened because individuals feel that they can freely suggest, recommend and discuss ideas and opinions among their peers and management. The lateral structure fosters a team mentality in that because of the open communication dynamic flowing throughout the organization, this in effect creates a workforce that is both engaged and working towards a cooperative spirit.

Lateral Structure Criteria

In all arrangements including those of a lateral nature, there must be a discussion of tasks to be split up among the employees. The selection and grouping of tasks are typically done on the basis of six different criteria that include outputs, functions, target groups, geographical areas, work shifts and skills. The methodology of grouping of tasks depends on a variety of concerns. It is best first is all of the group makes the processes within the organization run smoother rather than produce something unnecessary and unwanted. In essence, stagnation is thwarted if grouping of tasks is facilitated properly. Output and function are the most common types of formats for grouping in all organization structures. Output is expressed as the productivity and performance of the organization on the basis of activities that the employees do. It is a collective ideal. Function is defined as how each individual within the organizational structure fits in accordance with their skills and talents. Often organizations group on function first then adjust accordingly because function ensures a standardization of the various processes that go on within that organization. Standardization is the proper group of skills in an organization (van Rijin, 2004).

There are methods of coordination of tasks after it the structure has been formed. There are presently three types of coordination that include the aforementioned standardization, mutual adjustment and supervision. Mutual adjustment is defined as the coordination of work through informal communication. Supervision is one of the most well-known types of coordination in an organization that essentially has one individual taking the responsibility for the work of others. An example of this is a manager who supervises others and gives them duties to do and achieve. The chain of command in this case is vertical because of the fact that the manager also has to monitor their subordinates’ performance and are held accountable for what they are doing by upper management. Standardization provides the opportunity for coordination to take place prior to any kind of executable action (van Rijin, 2004). Within the lateral structure, there tends to be a combination of each of the types of coordination because the central premise of them is to create cohesion and cooperation. It is important to note that lateral structural arrangements are more costly to organizations that other types of arrangements, but the cohesion that takes place within the structure is quite efficient and effective as opposed to matrix structures, which tend to cause disarray or networks that are often quite different to manage.

Regarding target groups and work shifts, lateral structure arrangements work best on the communication. In other worlds, effectiveness is produced when there is a communicative aspect within the criteria. This of course lends itself to management having to further determine other imperatives in the arrangement that include the size and age of the employees, the core processes that the structure will handle, and the overall strategies and goals that will be performed by the structure. The size and the age of the work group can become quite a complex task as they both affect the character and shaping of the organization. Further, managerial decisions pertaining to how many employees and their respective ages will also forecast whether the objectives and tasks will be carried out sufficiently (van Rijin, 2004).

The core processes of an organization should in essence align with the determined structure. The structure is built around turning the inputs into outputs and the underlying beliefs that engender the necessary outcomes. These processes tend to evolve as the organization evolves. Companies that operate on a lateral structure must make sure that the core processes continue to foster open communication and a teamwork mentality in order to be productive. Organizations must also make sure that they are capable of being flexible in their core processes given the ever-changing environment of business. There is always an uncertainty and turbulence factor present in all types of business structures, including the lateral ones. Next, organizations must decides on the strategy and goals once the structure is in place. Given the open communication element of the lateral structure, this points to organizations being clear and consistent in their goals and objectives of what they hope to achieve. The strategy must be forward looking in the short and long term and a continuing communication must be present. Goals must be clearly stated to the organization in a lateral structure (Høyrup, 2004; Srivastava, 2005).

Grossi et al. (2007) note that there are other types of goals within a structure that are often not talked about. These goals include existing goals, which are those that are pursued without discussion in accordance with the self-image and values of the organization; honorific, which are goals that have qualities of a desirable nature; stereotypical, which are goals that all organizations that call themselves reputable should have and taboo goals, which are objectives that are pursued but not routinely discussed (2007). In assessing the criteria for a lateral structure, because it is lateral, there needs to be discussion of who will plan and manage interactions between departments (Webster, 2013). This gets back to the element of open communication. Integration of roles such as managers and project managers as well as workers must be decided upon beforehand to avoid any issues pertaining to the designated structure setup.

The Advantages of Lateral Structures

As quiet as it is kept when discussing lateral structures, but employees tend to have more authority in their working environment. Although there is a chain of command setup, the relationship between the departments is on the same level. Thus, there is a strengthening of relationships between employees. Organizations benefit tremendously from the lateral structural set up because morale is improved. Employees then receive more liberty in their decision making as long as the core processes and tasks set forth by the organization are achieved. Employees are permitted to work closely with other employees of different positions and the ability to focus on projects in other areas rather than solely their own. Lateral structures then allow for an intermingling of different ideas and concepts for the overall objective of the corporation. There is an inclusion of many different perspectives and individuals are able to provide their input in the process (Morhman, 2005). This also encourages an increased sense of worth and value among the employees because they feel as if their opinions and outlooks on the company matters and that they are not just working for a company that does not value its employees. The dynamics of power are less in focus in the lateral structure because of this. While there is an understanding of power and management, the functional aspects of the organization are centered on growth and development of the entire company rather than just one person in particular.

Mohrman (2007) notes that an organization is far more than its structure in that there must be flexibility in all elements and systematic ways of operation. There is not one way of operation to achieve a desired outcome. One specific way in which lateral structures are advantageous to companies is in the area of geography. Organizations can have individuals dispersed among various points around the world and still receive the necessary perspectives that ultimately factor into the core processes. Moreover, there is definite interaction and contribution that is felt by all members in the structure (p.1-3). In other words, individuals who are working within the organization do not feel left behind. "In lateral structures, both the performance and coordination or management of tasks are performed for [the] purpose of avoiding losses inherent in having to deal with issues hierarchically. Most geographically dispersed teams and networks perform knowledge work, and have the necessary expertise" to cohesively interact with others in the structure (Morhman, 2007). Essentially, the advantage of having a lateral structure in a geographical sense allows the company's employees to work together along the communication sphere to achieve the projected objectives and goals of the company without anyone feeling like they are being left out of the performance equation.

The Disadvantages of Lateral Structures

While there are advantages to the lateral structure, there are also disadvantages. Workers tend to experience conflicting loyalties in terms of who they are to report to. De Dreu & Beersma (2005) assert that organizations must create conflict resolution strategies in order to combat issues in the workplace. While a significant amount of effort has gone into how employees and supervisors interact at work in terms of both general operation and conflict, there is a need to further the discussion considering performance and productivity are often affected when conflict of any type is present (p.105-106). In the realm of lateral structure discussion, organizations where conflicting loyalties occur can become quite problematic and increase tension among employees. It is not that the employees necessary want there to be tension present, but given the lateral dynamic of the structure and the cohesion among the various departments, it often makes it a cumbersome task for the employees as to who they should be reporting to. Basically, the question of who is the boss comes to mind under this premise. This then is one notable disadvantage of the lateral structure. There is not a definitive boss among the employees because there is interconnectedness of the departments in achieving the corporate and organizational objectives.

De Dreu & Beersma (2005) additionally state that organizations need to unequivocally focus on strategies to deal with conflicts among management and employees given that they do occur. This will assist in the wellbeing and satisfaction of employees, management and the working relationship between departments within the organization. They term the phrase occupational health, which is expressed as the effectiveness of conflict management in both the short and long term (p.109-110). Organizations must make an effort especially in lateral structures to deal with conflict as it arises for not only the individual employees' wellbeing but the wellbeing of the organization as well. Webster (2013) states that another disadvantage of lateral structures is that they add additional responsibilities to the worker (p.1). This has led to issues of burnout.

Schaufeli et al. (2008) argue that burnout is important for all organizations to examine regardless of their structure. Burnout is essentially a metaphor for weariness mentally due to being overburdened. Burnout leads to exhaustion, lack of professional efficacy and cynicism. Exhaustion is mental resource drainage, cynicism is indifference towards one's job and lack of professional efficacy is the tendency of workers to evaluate their performance in a negative light or rather feel as if they will never fully be recognized for the work that they do accomplish. The most obvious aspect of burnout is being overworked or rather working beyond the scope of duties written in the job description (p.174-177). Due to the lateral structures having employees and supervisors from various departments overlapping, burnout often sets in within the employees because it becomes more work than the employees were initially expecting given the lateral layout of the core processes and goals of the organization.

Counteracting the Disadvantages of Lateral Structures

The two disadvantages of the lateral structures are conflict and burnout. To counteract conflict, there needs to be an incorporation of conflict management into the organization. Given that conflict directly influences the satisfaction of one's job, it behooves organizations to ascertain the different types of conflict and derive ways of solving the issues. Frustration and anxiety must be curtailed in order for this work (p.111-112). Employees have to feel as if their conflicts and complaints are heard and not 'shoved under the proverbial carpet.'

Evidence suggests that an integration of conflict management strategies will be serve companies that operate on a lateral structure. Dontigney (2013) defines five strategies that organizations can implement or examine in combatting conflict management. These are accommodation, avoidance, collaboration, and competing. Accommodation refers to giving the opposition what they want. In this particular strategy, the organization keeps peace by granting the employees' wishes. This particular strategy has proven to keep conflict to a minimum, but it also offers the slight possibility that workers will lose respect for the organization that they work for. The avoidance strategy seeks to ignore the conflict with the hope that it will fade and go away (p.1). Avoidance has served some organizations quite well because the employees and/or supervisors get fed up and quit or leave the organization and then the organization can subsequently hire more productive workers or those that will in essence adhere to the core processes and objectives of the organization without complaining.

The collaboration strategy works to systematic integrate ideas and perspectives given by many individuals. The objective here is to make sure a creative solution can be found to end conflicts. Compromising is noted as a strategy to find an agreeable rather than an acceptable solution to conflict that is occurring within the workplace. This is a commonly employed strategy because the organization tends to retain its employees in this case rather than losing them and having to go through the process of hiring new employees. Competing is defined as one side winning and the other side losing. The organization essentially selects a winner in the conflict. There are benefits from the competitive strategy in that they generate pay cuts or layoffs (revenue saving) for the company (Dontigney, 2013). The second disadvantage, burnout, is dealt with in another way.

Organizations tend to view burnout as an individual issue rather than a group one. It is essential for organizations to understand however that there is a definitive cost factor associated with burnout. Given that burnout often goes unnoticed, organizations should observe their workforce and ask them questions pertaining to their job to ensure that burnout does not occur or is minimized as much as possible. Organizations should wholeheartedly understand the psychological dynamics of burnout and that in the end it will cost them a significant amount of money if the employee quits or an accident occurs on the job (Kulkarni, 2006). This is even more important in lateral structures in combatting and thwarting as much as possible because of the intertwining of departments in addressing objectives and goals of the company. While lateral structures are not centered solely on teams, there is a teamwork element and if one individual burns out doing the task or objective that they have been assigned to do to fulfill the core processes of the organization, that will undoubtedly have a rippling effect on whether or not the goal is achieved by the organization or not. Thus, it is crucial for organizations to offer certain elements in their business for employees to use such as skill training, peer support and professional counseling. While organizations may believe that it is unnecessary given that burnout is typically considered a personal issue, they will be better equipped to deal with issues that arise if they plan ahead of time rather than become reactive and risk losing the employee(s) because of burnout issues.

Why the Lateral Structure is the Best Solution in Business?

Among all of the structures mentioned previously, the lateral structure strikes accord with organizations because there is a cohesion that is otherwise not obtained with other structural types. Employees and supervisors from a variety of departments are by and large motivated to effectively achieve the objectives and tasks associated with the organization. The lateral structure is a bureaucratic type structure in that tasks are given to different departments and they all come together at the end to achieve the particular goal. Moreover, lateral structure foster a teamwork mentality that is often lacking in organizations. While teamwork is one of the prime movers of business, the inner workings of an organization do not often have a teamwork element present. Therefore, if organizations implement a lateral structure, they are almost guaranteed to have a positive workplace where duties are done on time and effective.

Lateral structures are the most beneficial to organizations as far as costs too because they can designate tasks to one or two workers without having to hire additional workers to fulfill them. While disadvantages have been known to arise from this, they do not outweigh the business oriented aspects of the lateral structure in the overall picture that is achieved with that structure in place.


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