Chain Of Command: Definition, Advantages, Disadvantages

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Chain Of Command

It’s essential to have a proper hierarchy or managerial structure within every organization. Otherwise, it will create ambiguity and a lot of problems in managing the organization. Having an organizational order that helps in controlling is known as a chain of command.

In this article, you will clearly understand the concept, its features, advantages, and disadvantages. After reading this, you will create a proper hierarchy within your organization to keep everything in order. 

Understanding The Structure Of A chain of command

The chain of command is one of the most traditional ways of structuring the authority levels of a company. It is common for you to witness the same structure of the chain of command at multiple organizations, be it government entities or any other consumer-based organization. 

Understanding the Structure of a chain of command

The Top Level of Management

The owner of the business or the CEO acquires the position at the extreme top of the chain of command as they are the holder of the top position at the company. At the next level down, there usually are the senior executives or individuals who serve in the roles of vice president over a portion of the organization. Individuals in this position report directly to the CEO of the company.

Departmental Heads & Managers

Under the upper management level, you will find individual supervisors or managers who are in charge of an entire department within the organization or a group of employees. These employees would come under the middle-management level or at the very bottom of the chain of command, which represents that their direct supervisor is their authority figure.

It is also normal to find multiple ways to break down the hierarchy even further based on how big an organization is, how many departments and sections it has, and many more. 

Depending on the needs of the business, there may be many more hierarchical levels within the organization. 

Distribution of Power & Authority

The crucial thing to understand is that – the lower the position at the hierarchical level, the less the power that you will hold within the organization. Individuals who stand at the top of the hierarchy will hold more power over the organization and will have important functions in the decision-making for the same. They also carry more responsibility and accountability for the success of the company and every single individual who falls under them in the chain of command.

Use of Chain of Command across Organizations 

While there is only one traditional structure of a chain of command, you may find multiple organizations define it in their terms as per the requirements of their business. Some companies use traditional phrases like “subordinate” and “superior” to describe members that contribute to the hierarchy of the company, while others use terms like “team members,” or “employees” or actual job titles.

The chain of command varies from one organization to the other, but the core concept of it remains the same. It is followed in every organization to maintain hierarchy within their workflow and to make sure each individual tied to the organization knows what their power and position is within the organization. 

A chain of command structure has both advantages and disadvantages. Let us discuss both in the next section of the article.

Various Features of Chain Of Command

Various Features of Chain Of Command

A chain of command is a structural hierarchy within an organization. It clearly defines who should report to whom and who is in charge of whom. Take a look at the features and structure of a good chain of command.

1. Order Of Ranks

The order of ranks is the key feature because it clearly defines the rank of employees at different levels. Order of ranks helps employees to understand their responsibilities within the organization and act accordingly. It creates discipline and helps in the smooth running of the organization.

2. Unity Of Command

Unity of command helps the organization to avoid any conflict while making decisions. Since the accountability of decisions is defined, only one person takes a particular decision. It prevents any kind of conflict in decision-making.

3. Accountability

A chain of command provides particular decisions to its employees. So, people can make decisions at different levels. This makes the whole process smooth because people take responsibility for their decisions.

4. Delegation Of Authority

A good chain of command clearly defines the delegation of authority. That means it becomes easier for people to know from whom to take instructions and who to give orders. For example, top-level managers can delegate the authority to their subordinate managers to attend a meeting on their behalf.

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5. Levels Of Management

Another important feature is it helps to maintain different levels of management. There are three levels of management within an organization:

  • Top-Level: People in top-level management set the future goals of an organization and are involved in planning.
  • Middle-Level: These managers are involved in executing the plan and making modifications when necessary.
  • Low-Level: These managers keep track of the day-to-day activities of the employees.

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Structure Of a chain of command 

The chain of command is one of the most traditional ways of structuring the authority levels of a company. It is common for you to witness the same structure of the chain of command at multiple organizations, be it government entities or any other consumer-based organization.

The owner of the business or the CEO acquires the position at the extreme top of the chain of command as they are the holder of the top position at the company. At the next level down, there usually are the senior executives or individuals who serve in the roles of vice president over a portion of the organization. Individuals in this position report directly to the CEO of the company.

Under the upper management level, you will find individual supervisors or managers who are in charge of an entire department within the organization or a group of employees. These employees would come under the middle-management level or at the very bottom of the chain of command, which represents that their direct supervisor is their authority figure.

It is also normal to find multiple ways to break down the hierarchy even further based on how big an organization is, how many departments and sections it has, and many more.

hierarchical levels

Depending on the needs of the business, there may be many more hierarchical levels within the organization.

The crucial thing to understand is that – the lower the position at the hierarchical level, the less the power that you will hold within the organization. Individuals who stand at the top of the hierarchy will hold more power over the organization and will have important functions in the decision-making for the same. They also carry more responsibility and accountability for the success of the company and every single individual who falls under them in the chain of command.

While there is only one traditional structure of a chain of command, you may find multiple organizations define it in their terms as per the requirements of their business. Some companies use traditional phrases like “subordinate” and “superior” to describe members that contribute to the hierarchy of the company, while others use terms like “team members,” or “employees” or actual job titles.

The chain of command varies from one organization to the other, but the core concept of it remains the same. People follow it in every organization to maintain hierarchy within their workflow and to make sure each individual tied to the organization knows what their power and position is within the organization. A chain of command structure has both advantages and disadvantages. Let us discuss both in the next section of the article.

Different Types of Chain of Command

Different Types of Chain of Command

Hierarchical models are really important across different industries  they help clear confusion and provide a clear and straightforward way of leading projects both in customer based business entities and government institutions. Also, any type of hierarchical structure is quite helpful for any type of organizations. Depending on the number of employment and the company’s size, there are  two different types of hierarchical structures.  –

  • Flat hierarchy
  • Vertical hierarchy

Flat Chain of Command

A flat hierarchical structure means a type of structure where the manager’s job role includes a higher degree of control within the company. The team members and the frontline employees report directly to the manager. Their job title requires dealing with fewer levels of middle managers or no middle managers at all. 

In this case the entire organizational structure looks flat under one, or few managers. A flat chain of command is best for small businesses or new organizations. But, some mid sized companies also follow this structure. 

Even if there are some middle managers, the command of pyramid starting from the top to the bottom is small. All the departmental heads or managers are the controllers and decision makers for broader groups or teams. They are the authority when it comes to making a business decision. 

Vertical Chain of Command

A vertical chain of command is complex and is completely opposite to flat chain of commands. The top line of the management is almost inaccessible to the lower level workers or frontline executioners. This type of organizational hierarchy has many middle layers and levels of managers. 

These are the mid level or intermediary managers who keep the chain of communication intact between the top level managers and the lower level executioners. Every manger here has smaller groups of associates and a smaller departmental power they can execute within their domain. 

In this type of managerial structure, the company’s processes and procedures are fixed. Also, if any major organizational changes were to be embraced, it comes directly from the top level management. Followed by the top management, the sharing of information is done by the other levels of managers within their management boundaries. 

Advantages Of Chain Of Command

There are several benefits of a good chain of command; some of them are as follows:

  • Responsibility: Businesses have different responsibilities, and it’s important to distribute them among your employees. Everyone has individual responsibilities, and their supervisors should handle them.
  • Clarity of Direction: there should be a clarity of direction within any organization, and a hierarchy can ensure that. With a proper hierarchy, it’s easier to carry out the day-to-day operations within the organization. Employees or followers don’t feel confused about certain goals and are accountable for their tasks. 
  • Productivity: An efficient chain of command will foster good workflow and proper management, which ultimately improves the productivity of the employees.
  • Maintain Good Relationships Internally and Externally: It does not just help you to foster good employee relationships. It also allows your organization to build strong relationships with customers, vendors, and stakeholders. Again, a good chain command helps employees to convey their roles and authority within the organization.
  • Boost Employee Morale: Another great advantage is that it helps to boost employee morale because they can communicate with their supervisors about their concerns. A good managerial structure helps employees to solve their problems properly.

Disadvantages Of Chain Of Command

Now that you understand the advantages, there are also some probable drawbacks.

  • Less Collaboration: A major drawback of having a chain of command within the organization is poor collaboration due to the people who are at the top of the hierarchy operating the organization. They set the rules, but the employees and middle managers have some autonomy in their work. In such a case, there can be less collaboration between the authority figures and employees.
  • Reduced Employee Empowerment: When there is a chain of command, the employees may not take the decision in a particular situation. So, it can discourage employees because they cannot act on their own in a particular situation.
  • More Competition: Another key problem is it can increase the competition among managers. It’s because decision-making managers may feel that their fellow managers are trying to be protective of their employees and employ control over them. So, it can lead to a factor of mistrust among peer managers.
  • Slow Communication: There can be slow communication because an idea or problem needs to go through several steps before reaching the decision-maker. For example, employees need to inform the supervisor about their concerns. The supervisor then talks to their immediate managers; the managers may decide or seek advice from their senior managers about the problem. So, communication can be very slow, especially in the case of a long chain of command.

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Example Of A Chain Of Command

In any office or organization, the chain of command is extremely helpful to accomplish goals. An example of the concept of chain of command is when different employees with various skills come together to develop a computer. It is a clear fact that no individual can ever develop a computer all by himself. Someone would have to develop the software, while others would be in charge of developing the hardware. In contrast to that, others will be making the packaging materials. To produce one operating computer, the management of the company will make sure that the employees have different sets of skills that are coordinated and brought together to work to complete the development.

A good chain of command makes sure that there is proper efficiency, answerability, coordination, and better resource utilization within the organization. The chain of command in the corporate world will begin with the top position that the chief executive officer holds. The CEO may, in certain cases, be the owner of the company. The CEO of the company is followed by the upper management like the company secretary, the vice president, human resource manager, etc. The upper management is to directly report to the CEO of the company. The upper management is further followed in the hierarchy level by the departmental managers and the other supervisors who are to directly report to the upper management. At last, the front-line workers follow and directly report to their respective managers or supervisors.

Leader Of The Government

In a level of bureaucracy, which is the government office, the president holds the chain of command at the top. The president would be acting like the lead of the government. The president is followed by the vice president. He directly reports to the president. From the vice president’s office, you have the cabinet secretaries who would also be directly reporting to the deputy president. The chain drops from the cabinet secretaries to the government officers and security guards.

Here, the chain of command makes sure that there is a smooth flow of information, service delivery, accountability, and well-sought decision-making. At the Army level, the chain of command acts through the line of authority, where the orders are passed from one unit to the others. Here, the orders get communicated from an officer of the higher rank to an officer of the lower rank. The major general is the one who is the highest officer in the Army and directly reports to the President. He is followed by the brigadier general, then the colonel, the lieutenant colonel, the major, the captain, the first lieutenant, and lastly, the second lieutenant.

Frequently Asked Questions!! (FAQs)

Now that you have understood the concept, its benefits, and drawbacks, here are some common questions.

Q1. Is A chain Of Command Important?

Ans. Yes, it is important because a proper chain of command establishes a hierarchical structure that helps to maintain order within the organization. When the managerial structure is clearly defined, it’s easier to set expectations at every level. It also allows employees to know whom to concern in certain situations.

Q2. What Are The Principles Of The Chain Of Command?

Ans. Unity of command
Scalar principles
The unity of command states that every employee should have only one supervisor. The scalar principle states that all the employees have a clear line of authority in the organization.

Q3. What Happens When The Chain Of Command Is Broken?

Ans. When the chain of command breaks, it will create a lack of respect for authority within the organization. So, it’s essential that leaders should teach their employees about it and respect it.

Q4. Does The Chain Of Command Work In Both Ways?

Ans. Yes, the chain of command works both ways. It’s not meant to mistreat employees and suffer; instead, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a way to encourage workers to maintain good relationships with the supervisors and have a system that can be useful for change through a single system.

Final Words

Hopefully, you have got some insights into the concept of chain of command, its principles, advantages, and disadvantages. However, some organizations have informal managerial structures. Lastly, don’t hesitate to share what you think about this post in the comments section.

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