What is a chain of command, how does it work and why is it important? Here is everything you need to know.
What is a chain of command?
A chain of command refers to a hierarchy of people who report to one another based on their authoritative levels.
How does a chain of command work?
For one example, a chain of command might include an intern who reports to an employee who reports to their manager who reports to a senior manager who reports to the vice president of the company who then reports to the chief executive officer of the company.
In journalism, a writer may report to a section editor
who may report to an associate or managing editor who may report to the editor in chief of the outlet. In sales, a sales representative may report to the sales manager who may report to the regional manager who may report to the national sales manager. In retail, a retail clerk may report to the store manager who may report to the owner of the retail company (if it's a small company) or who may report to the senior manager (if it's a larger company).
A chain of command may also refer to teams that report to each other. One team might have to do their job in order for the next team to elevate the project. For example, an editorial team might be working on a piece of sponsored content for a client, but they can't write the sponsored post without the client relations team who works to secure clients and determine the campaigns that will run. So the client relations team works with a client, and then that team reports to the editorial team who will write the article for publication.
What are alternatives to a chain of command?
There are four types of organizational structures that are common in companies — some of which use chains of command, and others that don't.
What are the four types of organizational structures?
- The Flat Structure: A flat structure is also known as a flatarchy, and it refers to a specific type of organization that is becoming ever more popular among startups and smaller organizations. That's because it removes unnecessary hierarchal levels and disseminates power across the entire organization. This means that there is no chain of command — everyone is pretty much on the same hierarchal level.
- The Functional Structure: A functional structure is also known as a bureaucratic organizational structure, and it refers to a structure that includes undertakings such as supervision, management, direction and the allocation of responsibilities. In other words, a functional structure divides the company based on specialty. A traditional business that falls under this category, therefore, might include a sales department, a marketing department, a customer service department and more. Each of these functional sectors of the company may have their own smaller chains of command.
- The Divisional Structure: A divisional structure is also known as a product structure, and it refers to an arrangement of a business that breaks down into separate, self-oriented groups of functionalities that focus on different products or projects. A perfect example of the type of company with a divisional structure is Gap, because it has three different retailers underneath its umbrella company: Gap, Old Navy and the Banana Republic, all of which operate as individual companies but are still, ultimately, under one brand. Each of these companies will have their own chains of commands, and the top of those chains report to the bigger umbrella company chain of command.
- The Matrix Structure: A matrix structure refers to a more complex structure that bonds employees by both function and product. The matrix structure is a bit more complicated in that employees have multiple bosses and reporting lines. So not only do they report to their divisional managers, but they also typically report to people like project managers. This means that there is no clear chain of command here, as it is more nuanced in this type of structure.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.