Disadvantages of the Line & Staff Organizational Structure

Written by sam grover
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Disadvantages of the Line & Staff Organizational Structure
Line and staff managers have very different backgrounds. (manager image by Dmitri MIkitenko from Fotolia.com)

Line and staff organizational structure is an organizational structure used in most large businesses and government organisations. The basic theory behind it is that line employees are directly involved in creating the organisation's product, while staff employees exist to support the line employees. For example, a plant foreman for an auto company would be a line employee, while an accountant for that same company would be a staff employee. They may be paid the same, but only the former has a supervisory capacity.

Slower Tempo

One of the biggest disadvantages with a line-and-staff structure is that an organisation becomes substantially larger. In a small sole proprietor business or a partnership that is composed completely of line staff, decisions are made swiftly and chain of command is clear. However, when staff employees are added, the organisation's ranks can become bloated and the number of people a piece of information has to flow through before a decision is made becomes larger.

This means that things happen much more slowly in a line-and-staff organisation than they do in an organisation purely composed of line workers and supervisors.

Ambiguous Authority

In a line and staff organisation, the staff managers do not officially have authority over the line managers' staff or the line managers themselves, regardless of whether they are at a similar or higher level. However, this is only in theory--a major problem with line and staff organisation is that support staff can wield more power than they are supposed to, as they control things that are vital to the organisation's goals.

For example, the plant foreman from above does not answer directly to the accountant. However, that accountant controls the funds that flow to and from his plant. This means that while the plant foreman does not have to answer to the accountant in theory, he does in practice, as the accountant can dramatically reduce his operating budget.

Top-Level Disagreement

Staff members of an organisation sometimes do wield official supervisory capacity, when they rise to positions supervising other staff members. The accountant above, for example, could go on to run a team of accountants or be promoted to higher levels.

This means that upper-level management tends to be composed of people who came from both the line and staff parts of the organisation, which means they have very different sets of experiences and very different ideas as to how to get things done. This can, like the size of the structure itself, slow down the rate at which decisions are made.

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