In contrast to a traditional functional structure that has formal departments and several layers of management, an informal flexible structure organizes workers in the best way that will meet business needs. This often means less management, less job specialization, a wider span of control and primary use of horizontal communication. While commonly used for small businesses with few employees, a flexible structure can work for any company that needs to facilitate communication and decision-making among lower-level workers and make it easier to respond to frequent change.

What Is a Flexible Structure?

A flexible structure is an informal type of organizational structure that puts less emphasis on departmentalization and a strong chain of command than a traditional bureaucratic structure does. Instead, this structure relies on allowing the workers on lower levels to make decisions as much as possible and emphasizes the ability to adapt quickly to changing business needs and allow for growth. These businesses tend to have a wide span of control where a manager oversees many workers and where communication happens more often among workers than from management to employees.

Similar to an organization with a project-based structure, managers in flexible organizations usually group workers to best accomplish common goals. However, there is more flexibility in job roles with less emphasis on specialization. Managers in flexible companies are often more willing to rotate workers and may put less importance on job titles and more emphasis on skills.

Examples of Flexible Structures

One example of a flexible structure is the flat organizational structure. To save money and get up and running as soon as possible, a small business just starting out may adopt this model where it may have a few essential employees but no top manager or formal departments. A flat organization may give workers in such businesses full control over the projects they do. In some cases, workers may even perform duties that cover multiple job titles.

Another use of a flexible structure would be a larger business that operates in multiple geographic areas. In that case, each region's branch may need to make decisions in response to different customer needs. So a flexible model that decentralizes control becomes most practical for the business's success.

Small businesses may also use a team-based type of flexible structure for temporary projects. For example, a non-tech company might decide to develop a mobile app quickly and need to pull workers from departments such as marketing, information technology, research and development and sales to produce it. A project manager may oversee this temporary team who will communicate and work together and make most decisions on their own. The team would break up once the app development completes.

Benefits of a Flexible Structure

Flexibility in business structures comes with several benefits that make the model suitable for companies that experience frequent change and need to customize how they organize workers to complete tasks. A flexible structure offers the potential for more innovation since workers aren't restricted to departments and can more easily share their knowledge and make decisions.

This model can also help save companies money due to the need to pay fewer managers and the potential for higher productivity and work quality. Lastly, employees in flexible organizations may have higher job satisfaction due to more learning opportunities and autonomy.

Disadvantages of a Flexible Structure

Flexibility in an organization also comes with some downsides to consider. A wider span of control means managers may find it harder to monitor and manage workers as well as develop strong working relationships with them. Giving employees so much autonomy also increases the possibility of power struggles that can lower morale, affect motivation and disrupt work activities in a way that hurts productivity. Lastly, a company with a flexible structure might find it harder to retain its staff when there aren't clear paths to promotion and where employees may have unclear roles.