Organizational design is dictated by a variety of factors, including the size of the company, the diversity of the organization's operations, and the environment in which it operates. Considerations of the external environment are a key aspect of organizational design. The environment in which an organization operates can be defined from a number of different angles, each of which generates different structural and design strategies to remain competitive.
Complexity theory postulates that organizations must adapt to uncertainty in their environments. The complexity theory treats organizations and firms as collections of strategies and structures that interact to achieve the highest efficiency within a given environment. Therefore, companies in a highly uncertain environment must prioritize adaptability over a more rigid and functional strategy. Alternatively, a fixed and specific approach to organizational design will capture more value in a mature market, where variability and uncertainty are limited.
Another perspective on organizational design is resource dependence theory—the study of how external resources affect the behavior of the organization. Procuring external resources is important in both the strategic and tactical management of any company. Resource-dependence theory explores the implications regarding the optimal divisional structure of organizations, recruitment of board members and employees, production strategies, contract structure, external organizational links, and many other aspects of organizational strategy.
Another environmental factor that shapes organization design is competition. Higher levels of competition require different organizational structures to offset competitors' advantages while emphasizing the company's own strengths. A company that demonstrates strength in differentiation relative to the competition benefits from implementing a divisional or matrix strategy, which in turn allows the company to manage a wide variety of demographic-specific products or services. Alternatively, a company that demonstrates a low-cost strength (producing products cheaper than the competition) benefits from employing a structural or bureaucratic strategy to streamline operations.
Identifying External Factors
- SWOT analysis: In this particular model, a company's strengths and weaknesses are assessed in the context of the opportunities and threats in the business environment. A SWOT analysis enables a company to identify the ideal structure to maximize its internal strengths while capturing external opportunities and avoiding threats.
- Porter's five-forces analysis: This analysis identifies factors of the industry's competitive environment that may substantially influence a company's strategic design. The five forces include power of buyers, power of suppliers, rivalry (competition), substitutes, and barriers to entry (how difficult it is for new firms to enter the industry). Understanding these varying forces gives the company an idea of how adaptable or fixed the organizational structure should be to capture value.
Porter's five-forces model
Porter's five-forces analysis identifies five environmental factors that can influence a company's strategic design: power of buyers, power of suppliers, competition, substitutes, and barriers to entry.
Smaller, more agile companies tend to thrive better in uncertain or constantly changing markets, while larger, more structured companies function best in consistent, predictable environments. Understanding these tools and frameworks alongside the varying external forces that act upon a business will allow companies to make strategic organizational decisions that optimize their competitive strength.