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Advantages & Disadvantages of a Hierarchy

Updated April 17, 2017

An organizational practice, hierarchy creates a vertical chain of specialisation, responsibility and status. In other words, hierarchy represents of a system of superiors and subordinates. The model is commonly used in business, politics, education, religion and many other areas of society; however, this type of organizational model comes with many advantages and disadvantages.

Clear Organization and Specialization

In a hierarchy, there is a clear organisation and people know who is above them and who is below them; they know what their duties are and those of the people above and below them. This may be due to practices such a company's use of an organizational chart, the historic social customs related to the caste system in India or even a group's deference to a community leader. In a hierarchy, people each have different duties and responsibilities, which is considered specialisation. More importantly, people in a hierarchy know what is expected of them, which is a solid advantage; however, they are also limited to their prescribed role, which is a big disadvantage.

Decisions

In a hierarchy, superiors are invested with decision-making powers, or increasingly complex decision-making powers the farther you go up the hierarchy or chain of command. People in a hierarchy know who is to make the decision on a particular issue or, at the very least, who is ultimately responsible for the decision (the top person in the hierarchy). The advantage is that this is often more efficient than other methods, such as group decision making. At the same time, preventing those on the bottom of the hierarchy from making or participating in a decision can prevent what may actually be a better decision.

Status

In a hierarchy, those at the top enjoy great status and prestige while those at the bottom have no status or prestige, or at least a reduced amount as compared to the top. This is an advantage for those at the top of the hierarchy; they may enjoy an increased sense of self-worth, higher self-esteem and economic and material benefits. The disadvantage belongs to those on the bottom of the hierarchy, who may experience a decreased sense of self-worth, lower self-esteem and limited or no access to material benefits.

Indirectness

Those at the top of the hierarchy do not deal directly with those at the bottom of the hierarchy. A hierarchy is composed of multiple levels, where people generally work with and associate most with those directly above and below them. Therefore, if a decision is to be made and input is needed from everyone, it can be an unwieldy process that can take a long time. Instead of addressing everyone equally at the same time, people are addressed according to their place in the hierarchy. At the same time, prolonged involvement can help prevent hasty decisions.

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About the Author

Sarah Rogers has been a professional writer since 2007. Her writing has appeared on Nile Guide, Spain Expat and Matador, as well as in “InMadrid.” She is also the author of “Living in Sunny Spain Made Easy.” Rogers often writes about living abroad and immigration law. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and Spanish from San Francisco State University.