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Reviewing your organisation’s structure

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Questions and pointers to help you review your non profit's organisational structure.

Changing an organisation’s structure can seem like an overwhelming task. However, approached with clear frameworks it does not have to be daunting. 

When there is a major change, you may need to reconsider the skills, expertise and time required to complete the work.

So what are some of the important questions to consider in a restructure?

What expertise does your organisation need?

One of the most important things to remember is that the way in which you structure an organization will influence the expertise that the organization develops. So if you put people into teams according to the region they work in, people will talk about that shared topic and will become experts at it.

In the same way, if you group people together according to which beneficiaries they work with, then that is where they will develop their expertise.

So, the first step in considering how to structure an organisation is to look at your organisation's structure and think:

What expertise and knowledge does this organisation need to achieve this strategy?

This will form the basis of how you group people and form the structure. Here are some of the most common ways to group people in organisations:

  • geographical (for example, South East England, Scotland, Wales, etc)
  • beneficiaries (for example, older people, refugees and asylum seekers, people with long standing disabilities, people who are newly disabled)
  • function (fundraising, service delivery, finance).

What kind of organisation do you want to be?

Think also about what kind of organisation you want to be.

If you aspire to be a flexible, responsive, proactive and fast moving organisation then you will need a structure which devolves responsibility for decision making to frontline staff. In practice, this requires a tolerance for making mistakes and moving on and little hierarchy and bureaucracy.

This might be appropriate for some services and organisations especially where you need to be creative and respond immediately to situations as they arise.

However, if you are in an organisation where it is important to get the detail exactly right, then you might want to consider more of a hierarchy where people submit ideas to be rigorously analysed and checked by managers and senior managers before being piloted, revised and possibly implemented. This will require more bureaucracy and attention to detail and more emphasis on getting it right.

In reality, most organisations fall somewhere between the two, allowing creativity in some areas but more checking by management in others. The flatter the hierarchy the more you will encourage the former, whilst several layers of management will encourage the latter.

Find out more about the different types of organisation structure in the organisational development section.

How will people communicate and co-ordinate within that organisational structure?

Once you have put people in teams, they will then need to consider how they will communicate and co-ordinate and communicate across the teams. So, will you have individuals with special responsibility for ensuring this co-ordination? Will you set up meetings, newsletters or shared intranet to make sure that everyone knows what everyone else is doing?   

How many people should report to one manager?

A common question in developing a structure is how many direct reports should one manager have. The simple answer is it depends on the extent to which the manager is prepared to devolve and delegate and can tolerate mistakes. If the organisation does not like mistakes then fewer reports and more hierarchy is appropriate.

It should be noted though, that if a member of staff cannot make progress with their work until it has been approved by managers more than one level above them in the hierarchy, then in reality they will be sitting around waiting for approval and are likely to get demotivated. 

Further reading

For more information on structures in voluntary organisations look at:

Page last edited Jul 25, 2017

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