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An organizational structure in Vocational Education defines how activities

such as task allocation, coordination and supervision are directed toward the
achievement of organizational aims.[1] Organizations need to be efficient, flexible,
innovative and caring in order to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. [2]
Organizational structure in Vocational Education can also be considered as the
viewing glass or perspective through which individuals see their organization and
its environment. An organization can be structured in many different ways,
depending on its objectives. The structure of an organization will determine the
modes in which it operates and performs. Organizational structure in Vocational
Education allows the expressed allocation of responsibilities for different functions
and processes to different entities such as the branch, department, workgroup and

Conceptual clarification

An organization's structure dictates who is in a position of authority, how

work is divided and how employees are assigned duties. Both horizontal and
vertical organizational structures have advantages and disadvantages in helping an
organization operate efficiently. The structure you choose for your company
depends in part of your style and what you hope to accomplish. While most
companies operate with a vertical structure, some prefer the less traditional,
horizontal structure.


The vertical organization has a structure with power emanating from the top down.
There's a well-defined chain of command with a vertical organization, and the
person at the top of the organizational chart has the most power. Employees report
to the person directly above them in the organizational structure. Each person is
responsible for a specific area or set of duties.


A horizontal organization has a less-defined chain of command. Employees

across lines have similar input into how the organization is run. Instead of each
person having clearly defined duties, employees may work in teams, with everyone
on the team having input. Employees may perform many different function and
may report to several supervisors, rather than a single boss. Project managers or
team leaders report to a team of supervisors, with members of each team being
essentially equal in terms of power.

Ways in which organizational structure affect organizational action

Organizational structure in Vocational Education affects organizational action

in two big ways:

First, it provides the foundation on which standard operating procedures and

routines rest.
Second, it determines which individuals get to participate in which decision-
making processes, and thus to what extent their views shape the
organizations actions.
The set organizational structure in Vocational Education may not coincide
with facts, evolving in operational action. Such divergence decreases
performance, when growing. E.g., a wrong organizational structure in
Vocational Education may hamper cooperation and thus hinder the
completion of orders in due time and within limits of resources and budgets.
Organizational structures should be adaptive to process requirements, aiming
to optimize the ratio of effort and input to output.

The business world contains a wide variety of structures and models, but two
basic forms can be used to define the setup of many private sector
organizations: vertical and horizontal. These distinctions are important because
they not only signify a difference in organization structure, but also in the way
an organization works, i.e., manages projects and gets results. While similarities
do exist, and nothing in business is totally black and white, the difference
between the two models can be vast.

Vertical Organizations

A business in the traditional mold, vertical organizations feature well-

defined leadership at the top of the organization whose influence filters down to
middle managers and department heads. These middle managers then assign work
to employees within their departments. Similarly, when work is complete, it goes
back up the chain until it reaches a manager with sufficient authority to approve
the work, which is then moved outside its original department to other areas of the
company for quality assurance or production.

For the first half of the 20th century, vertical organizations utilized a
command and control project management style. As the name implies, this method
involved a senior figure within the company assigning work with very specific
guidelines and little room for deviation. If this structure sounds authoritarian, thats
because it is, but during its heyday, it was implemented for good reason.
At that point in time, a significant skills gap existed between managers and
their subordinates. Managers often boasted higher levels of education, and were
competent in the tasks their employees completed on a daily basis.

With the dawning of the knowledge economy, command and control began
to fade as innovation began to rival production capability as the key competitive
edge in many markets. Today, vertical organizations more commonly use a
waterfall methodology, which revolves around work flowing through different
departments until it reaches an end point. The waterfall method leaves room for
innovation within departments, but limits the amount of collaboration between
different types of workers. The workflow focuses on dependent work, meaning that
work takes place in a sequential fashion.

Horizontal Organizations

In contrast to vertical organizations that feature a tiered structure of

management, horizontal organizations focus on skill proficiency rather than
management hierarchy. Less division exists between upper management and skill
workers. For example, a CEO might work directly with a development team in
completing projects, but in very technical situations, a CEO would defer to a
software developer whose knowledge far exceeds that of the chief executive

Organizations with a horizontal, or flat, management structure often begin as

start-ups with little need for traditional management. Titles dont matter as much as
skill, so employees without impressive positions are trusted with greater input into
project decisions and given the ability to solve problems creatively. Productivity is
what most concerns these organizations, making them less preoccupied with
distinguishing job roles and more focused on executing their goals.

Kinds of Organizational Structure

Small businesses and entrepreneurs usually develop organizational structures

similarly to larger companies, but without the height. Smaller companies do not
have as many echelons or levels of management. Instead, smaller organizations
tend to fill out width-wise first, as owners hire top level managers. Eventually,
small company owners will expand their organization downward as sales and
profits increase. Expansion allows upper management to delegate tasks and
projects to middle management and more specialized employees.

Functional Structure

A functional structure is divided by specialty. For example, a business owner

will typically hire executives with marketing, finance, advertising and engineering
backgrounds to run various departments. An executive in a small company may
have a senior vice president or vice president title. As the company grows,
executives hire directors or managers in their particular field. The purpose of a
functional structure is to group people according to skills and knowledge to better
harness expertise. The challenge comes when different functional areas within a
company try to communicate or coordinate tasks, according to the HRM Guide.

Product Structure

A business owner may choose a product organizational structure. For

example, executives would be in charge of particular products instead of a specific
function like marketing. Many retail companies use a product organizational
structure. An executive may hold a title such as vice president of housewares. The
company would then have directors or managers of various functional areas
reporting to each vice president. Product expertise is one advantage of a product
organizational structure, but there is some redundancy of resources.

Customer-Oriented Structure

Some small business owners organize their company by customer type. A

customer-oriented organizational structure is primarily used when a company
serves diverse customer groups. For example, a small electronic bill-pay company
may market online payment software to consumers, banks and health clubs.
Company sales representatives may need to specialize in one area because
procedures vary greatly for each customer type.

Combination Structure

A combination or matrix organizational structure is the combination of two

or more types of structures. For example, a company may use both a product- and
customer-oriented structure, striving to use the advantages of both types.
Combination structures are sometimes used temporarily for ad hoc or special
projects. For example, a small restaurant company may need an employee from
each department to test market a new chicken sandwich. Finance can oversee the
sales and profits, and marketing research can track visit frequency and consumer
Horizontal and Vertical Structures: The Dynamics of Organization in Higher

The organization of institutions of higher education has been seen as

operating with ambiguous purposes in vertically oriented structures that are only
loosely connected (Cohen and March 1986; Weick 1976; Mintzberg 1979). The
rationale for this ambiguity is twofold: (1) to allow for creative thinking, and (2) to
respectand even encouragethe autonomy of different disciplines. But
ambiguity of purpose and vertical organization are at odds with thinking and
expectations in an era of accountability and assessment, in which cross-
institutional, or horizontal, reporting and measurement of institutional performance
are highly regarded and increasingly demanded (Callan et al. 2006). Student affairs
divisions are particularly challenged, given their ambiguous purpose (to support
holistic student learning and development); the perception that they are support
services, rather than core academic functions; and their primarily historically and
traditionally framed organizational structures (Fenske 1990). Student affairs
divisions are appropriately scrutinized to display how their ambiguous purpose is
manifested in practice via organizational effectiveness and responsiveness to
institutional needs, and through documented contributions to the development and
achievement of desired student outcomes (Bresciani, Zelna, and Anderson 2004;
Upcraft and Schuh 1996). The ability of student affairs functional areas to
document and demonstrate value provides a pertinent opportunity to reconsider the
organizational nature of student affairs programs, services, activities, and systems
of support (Keeling 2004).

This vertical organizational structure is reinforced by centrifugal forces that create

decentralization and locate governance, responsibility, and resources peripherally,
rather than centrally; funding models in many institutions base the allocation of
resources on credit hours, which drives money into individual schools based on
student enrollments in courses (Ehrenberg 2000). Schools within larger institutions
compete with each other for scarce resources and almost inevitably, and often by
necessity, promote their own interests rather than those of the university at large.
Centralized components of the institutionsuch as most student affairs offices,
programs, and servicesmay struggle for resources in this context.


Vertical organizations are efficient. They can make decisions quickly,

because responsibility lies with people highest in the chain of command.
Employees coming into a job have clearly defined duties and each position
involves specialized tasks, with little need to learn new tasks and skills. Horizontal
organizations have fewer rules and put more power in the hands of employees,
which can increase employee satisfaction. Employees in a horizontal organization
may have a stronger sense of identification with the company, feeling they are part
of a team.


Vertical organizations can be rigid, with many rules. Some employees feel
stifled by this kind of structure, or feel their input isn't important. Horizontal
organizations are less efficient, taking more time and resources to make decisions.
Workers in horizontal organizations have to learn more skills, which can increase
job stress or make the job more interesting, depending on the employee.

The traditional structures of most colleges and universities do not naturally

support the integration of learning experiences, the establishment of institution-
wide desired learning outcomes that define the overall, transformative goals of
engagement with higher education, or the assessment of the institutions
effectiveness in achieving those goals. A curricular approach to learning, student
development, assessment, and retention depends on creating horizontal structures,
forces, and dynamics that intersect with vertical systems and structures;
institutional effectiveness requires the tighter coupling of horizontal and vertical
activities in ways that promote student learning and sustain an engaged student
experience. Implementing such an approach will require the development and
exercise of significant institutional will to support a substantial transformation of
assumptions, attitudes, values, and systems within postsecondary institutions.

Bourgault, J., and R. Lapierre. 2000. Horizontality and public management.

Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Management Development.

Braxton, J. M. 2006. Faculty professional choices in teaching that foster student

success. Washington, DC: National Postsecondary Education Cooperative.

Bresciani, M. J., C. L. Zelna, and J. A. Anderson. 2004. Assessing student learning

and development: A handbook for practitioners. Washington, DC:
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Callan, P. M., J. E. Finney, M. W. Kirst, M. D. Usdan, and A. Venezia. 2006.

Claiming common ground: State policymaking for improving college readiness
and success. San Jose, CA: National Center for Public Policy and Higher

Chickering, A. W., and L. Reisser. 1993. Education and identity. San Francisco:

Clark, B. R. 1963. Faculty organization and authority. In Organization and

governance in higher education, ed. M. C. Brown, II, 11927. Boston: Pearson
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