Chain of Command

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Overview

The chain of command, or scalar chain, is the concept that establishes the formal tone for line of authority, communication, and responsibility within an organization. Orders and decisions are passed down from top to bottom of the hierarchy and the feedback travels in the reverse order. The chain of command clarifies where the authority rests and who reports to whom.

A proper chain of authority ensures that resources are not wasted, communication travels through proper channels, accountability is strengthened, duplication of work is avoided and structure of the organization is simplified. A scalar chain facilitates clear work flow which helps in gaining efficiencies and enables a proper reporting structure. As the authority flows from top to bottom, it clarifies the authority positions of managers at all levels and facilitates effective organization.

Organizational Structures

Organizational structures are formatted in different ways in keeping with the management’s approach and objectives. There are hierarchical structures—tall and flat and there are the matrix organizations. A hierarchical structure has many layers of management, each with a narrow span of control. The communication flows top downward in a tall hierarchical structure and there is a tight control over each activity and a somewhat rigid structural authority is maintained.

However, in the more challenging business environment of today, organizations are resorting to flatter structures. Here, the authority centers are few and span of control is wider. The reason for bias towards this structure is more empowerment of the employee and faster decision making. There is a definite increase in productivity as time taken, to course through proper channels and arrive at a decision or convey a vital piece of information, is reduced greatly. In a tall hierarchical structure, one cannot bypass one’s manager and all decision making is done in a vertical fashion.

Unlike this, now the focus is not on maintaining structural sanctity but delivering on the goals and productivity. There is a premium attached to flexibility and quick response to change. The pursuit of success and survival in a shrewd environment make it imperative to try and place decision-making authority with those who can most effectively and efficiently respond to change. In the case of workforce remodeling, management is able to evaluate a person’s performance in his current capacity and realign his position in keeping with objectives of the organization. Such organizations do not fully adhere to the chain of command or unity of command principle where an employee reports to only one superior. In matrix organizations, employees often work with two supervisors. There is unlearning of old school teachings as employees attempt to share power, use open conflict resolution, and work at communication flow in all directions.

Role of Org Charts

Org charts come in handy in the flatter and matrix organizations much more as the organizational charts are able to display where the individual stands in the organization, his superiors, his peers, his subordinates and his span of control. The other advantage of getting a clear picture of the structure is that it clarifies the various functions, departments and respective reporting structures. So even if an employee is at the staff level in the finance department, he will be reporting only to his senior and not to a superior from any other section.

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