Management Theory of Henry Mintzberg: Ten Managerial Roles

Patrick Ward Patrick Ward Follow Oct 03, 2021 · 15 mins read
Management Theory of Henry Mintzberg: Ten Managerial Roles

what are mintzberg’s ten managerial roles?

Henry Mintzberg’s ten managerial roles are:

  1. Figurehead
  2. Leader
  3. Liaison
  4. Monitor
  5. Disseminator
  6. Spokesperson
  7. Entrepreneur
  8. Disturbance Handler
  9. Resource Allocator
  10. Negotiator

We’ve covered many leaders in the development of management theory on this site, from Frederick Taylor to Robert Kahn.

Henry Mintzberg is a different case since he is still active teaching and writing to this day, producing academic papers and books as well as practical guides like his 2019 book Bedtime Stories for Managers.

In the context of management theory, Henry Mintzberg is best known for three pieces of work:

  1. The Nature of Managerial Work (1973)
  2. The Structuring of Organizations: Synthesis of Research (1979)
  3. The Rise and Fall of Planning (1994)

From these works, he has become known for his unique views on management and strategy, including his “Five Organizational Configurations,” “Five Minds of a Manager,” “Ten Roles of a Manager,” and perspectives on “Crafting Strategy.”1

In this post, we’re going to be covering the Management Theory of Henry Mintzberg, including:
  1. Who Henry Mintzberg is
  2. The Five Organizational Configurations
  3. The Five Minds of a Manager
  4. The Ten Roles of a Manager
  5. Crafting Strategy

Who is Henry Mintzberg?

Henry Mintzberg (1939) was born in Montreal, Canada. After completing a Bachelor of Engineering at McGill University in 1961, he worked for Canadian National Railways for two years while simultaneously earning a Bachelor of General Arts from Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University.

Next, Mintzberg completed his Master of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1965 and later a Ph.D in Management at the Sloan School of Management.

Since then, he has been working as a professor of Management Studies at McGill University and spent time as a visiting professor at various other universities (including INSEAD).

Five Organizational Configurations

According to Mintzberg, in order for an organization to be efficient and effective at accomplishing a given task, the organization’s design must be consistent, be coherent, and fit.2

Mintzberg says that consistent and coherent organizational design comes in “one of five natural configurations, each a combination of certain elements of structure and situation.”

The following chart lists the various component parts, elements of structure, situational factors, and five natural configurations:

Component Parts Structural Elements Situational Elements Natural Configurations
  1. Strategic apex
  2. Operating core
  3. Middle line
  4. Technostructure
  5. Support staff
  1. Specialization of jobs
  2. Training and indoctrination
  3. Formalization of behavior
  4. Grouping
  5. Unit size
  6. Planning and control systems
  7. Liaison devices
  8. Decentralization
  1. Age and size
  2. Technical system
  3. Environment
  4. Power
  1. Simple structure
  2. Machine bureaucracy
  3. Professional bureaucracy
  4. Divisionalized form
  5. Adhocracy

In the subsections that follow, I’ll describe each of the component parts, elements of structure, and situational factors, as well as summarize the five natural configurations. Then, in the final subsection, I’ll provide an easy-to-use reference chart that lists the structural and situational elements of the Five Organizational Configurations.

For more detailed descriptions of all elements and configurations, see the original article, “Organization Design: Fashion or Fit?

Component Parts

The following chart describes each of the component parts of organizational design.

Component Parts Description
Strategic apex Top management
Operating core “People [who] do the basic work of the organization”
Middle line Managers between top management and the workers
Technostructure “Analysts who design systems concerned with the formal planning and control of the work”
Support staff Those who provide “indirect services to the rest of the organization”

Structural Elements

The following chart describes each of the structural elements of organizational design.

Structural Element Description
Specialization of jobs
  • “Number of tasks in a given job” (i.e. “horizontal specialization”) and “the worker’s control over these tasks” (i.e. “vertical specialization”)
Training and indoctrination
  • “The use of formal instructional programs to establish and standardize...the requisite skills, knowledge, and norms to do particular jobs”
Formalization of behavior
  • “The standardization of work processes by imposition of operating instructions, job descriptions, rules, regulations, and the like”
  • Structures that are high in standardization are “bureaucratic,” while those that are low are “organic”
  • “The optional bases by which positions are grouped together into units and...higher-order units”
  • Grouped by function performed or market served
Unit size
  • “The number of positions (or units) contained in a single unit”
Planning and control systems
  • Systems to “standardize outputs”
  • “Action planning systems...specify the results of specific action before they are taken” and “performance control systems...specify the results of...actions after the fact”
Liaison devices
  • “Mechanisms used to encourage mutual adjustment within and among units”
  • Come in the form of liaison positions, task forces, integrating managers, and matrix structures
  • The degree to which decisions are centrally determined
  • “Vertical decentralization” is “the extent to which decision making is delegated to managers” from top to bottom, while “horizontal decentralization” is “the extent to which non-managers...control decision processes”

Situational Elements

The following chart describes each of the situational elements of organizational design.

Situational Element Description
Age and size
  • “The extent to which [an organization’s] behavior is formalized and its administrative structure...elaborated”
  • Ranges “from simple organic to elaborated bureaucratic”
Technical system
  • How production is organized
  • How complex, “static or dynamic,” diverse, and hostile the organization’s external environment is
  • An organization’s degree of external control, personal power needs, and level of interest in “fashionable” organizational designs

Natural Configurations

The following chart describes each of the five natural organizational configurations that form from the preceding structural and situational elements.

Natural Configuration Description
Simple structure
  • A simple and dynamic administrative structure with “not much more than one large unit consisting of one or a few top managers and a group of operators who do the basic work”
  • “The most common simple structure is...the classic entrepreneurial company”
Machine bureaucracy
  • A simple and stable administrative structure where “coordination depends on the standardization of work”
  • “Most common among large, mature mass-production companies, such as automobile manufacturers, as well as...established providers of mass services, such as insurance companies and railroads”
Professional bureaucracy
  • A complex and stable administrative structure with standardized skills and “highly trained professionals” coordinated with “considerable support staff”
  • “The structure hospitals, universities, and accounting firms tend most often to favor”
Divisionalized form
  • A relatively simple and stable administrative structure with standardized outputs and coordinated “parallel operating units”
  • “In pure or modified form through most of the Fortune ‘500’ [companies]”
  • A complex and dynamic administrative structure with unique work, skills, outputs, and/or staff and flexible coordination
  • Most common in “industries such as aerospace, petrochemicals, think-tank consulting, and filmmaking”

In order to use these Five Organizational Configurations, a manager will compare their own organization’s design to the most appropriate one of the five organizational configurations. Then, they can determine where their organization’s component parts do not align so that improvements can be made. When doing this, the manager should ensure that:3

  1. Internal elements are consistent;
  2. External controls are functional;
  3. All component parts fit; and
  4. Structure matches the situation.

The Manager and Their Job

In his work, Mintzberg describes the manager as a mind separate from the manager as a role. Here’s a breakdown of each perspective:

The Five Minds of a Manager

Mintzberg (and Jonathan Gosling) determined that the managerial mind requires one to have broad knowledge and experience, reflect on this knowledge and experience, analyze the situation, collaborate with others, and act.

These “five ways in which managers interpret and deal with the world around them” are referred to as the “five sets of the managerial mind.” In turn, “each [set] has a dominant subject, or target, of its own” and can be paired in a prescriptive sort of fashion, as seen in the chart below.4

Function Target
Have broad knowledge and experience
(Worldly mind set)
to Manage the Context
(Reflective mind set)
to Manage the Self
(Analytic mind set)
to Manage the Organization
(Collaborative mind set)
to Manage Relationships
(Action mind set)
to Manage Change

Mintzberg states that an effective manager requires all of these skill sets. Furthermore, an organization’s management must “combine their reflective actions in analytic, worldly ways”; more simply put, effective organizations require their managers to “understand one another and combine their strengths.” Gosling, 2003)

The Ten Roles of a Manager

Mintzberg defines a manager as “a person in charge of an organization or subunit.” As a result, this means that the title is applicable to countless people with formal authority and status. He states that these individuals have ten integrated managerial roles that can be categorized into three groups. The ten roles and corresponding groups are as follows:

Interpersonal Roles Informational Roles Decisional Roles
  • Figurehead
  • Leader
  • Liaison
  • Monitor
  • Disseminator
  • Spokesperson
  • Entrepreneur
  • Disturbance Handler
  • Resource Allocator
  • Negotiator

Like the aforementioned “five minds,” Mintzberg states that all of these roles are required of a manager; that is, no one role can be removed. Similarly, roles cannot be divided unless they are “very carefully [reintegrated]” and cannot be shared unless all people fully communicate all information and “act as one entity.”

Interpersonal Roles

According to Mintzberg, interpersonal roles “arise directly from formal authority and involve basic interpersonal relationships.”

The figurehead role consists of representing the organization through formal/ceremonial duties, like greeting and giving a tour to a potential business partner.

The leader role consists of direct leadership, like hiring and training, and indirect leadership, like the motivation and encouragement of employees. In effect, “leadership determines in large part how much of [a manager’s potential power is realized].”

And the liaison role consists of making contact “outside the vertical chain of command,” since “managers spend as much time with peers and other people outside their units as they do with their own subordinates” and “very little time with their own superiors.”

Informational Roles

Informational roles are those that are associated with gathering, analyzing, organizing, storing, and distributing knowledge.

The monitor role consists of “perpetually scanning the environment for information, interrogating liaison contacts and subordinates, and receiving unsolicited information.”

The disseminator role consists of passing on “privileged information directly to subordinates” or between subordinates when they “lack easy contact with one another.”

And the spokesperson role consists of sending information to people inside and outside the organizational unit, like a public speech, a presentation to shareholders, or communication with a subordinate manager.

Decisional Roles

Decisional roles are those associated with making and implementing high-level business decisions.

The entrepreneur role consists of actions associated with improving one’s unit and adapting it “to changing conditions in the environment.” This includes creating new products or processes, reorganizing a weak department, mergers and acquisitions, and other projects.

The disturbance handler role consists of responding to changes “beyond the manager’s control,” like when “a strike looms, a major customer has gone bankrupt, or a supplier reneges on a contract.”

The resource allocator role consists of determining the organizational structure, “deciding who will get what,” and ensuring that interrelationships are coherent.

Finally, the negotiator role consists of using important information and committing organizational resources when solving problems or forming agreements.

Crafting Strategy

As mentioned previously, Mintzberg is also known for his unique contributions to business strategy. In the following subsections, I’ll cover Mintzberg’s perspectives on strategy and the strategist.5

Perspectives on Strategy

Traditionally speaking, strategy is seen as being planned. This involves “the systematic analysis of competitors and markets, of company strengths and weaknesses, [and] the combination of these analyses producing clear, explicit, full-blown strategies.”

Mintzberg defines this as “deliberate strategy.” Conversely, Mintzberg argues that strategy should be crafted to some degree, where “formulation and implementation merge into a fluid process of learning through which creative strategies evolve”; in other words, where action drives thinking and strategies “emerge.” He defines this as “emergent strategy.”

Mintzberg believes that strategy requires a combination of these two approaches, where an organization benefits from the controlling features of a deliberate strategy and the learning features of an emergent strategy. This is because not everything can be known and planned in advance and too much flexibility will result in a lack of clear direction. Thus, Mintzberg states that strategies sit at some point within a continuum, between deliberate at one end and emergent at the other.

Moreover, Mintzberg offers two examples of effective strategies: 1. umbrella strategy; and 2. process strategy. Each can be defined as follows:

  • Umbrella strategy involves “[setting] out broad guidelines (say, to produce only high-margin products at the cutting edge of technology or to favor products using bonding technology) and leaves the specifics (such as what these products will be) to others lower down in the organization. This strategy is not only deliberate (in its guidelines) and emergent (in its specifics), but it is also deliberately emergent in that the process is consciously managed to allow strategies to emerge en route.”
  • Process strategy involves “[controlling] the process of strategy formation—[i.e.] with the design of the structure, [staffing], procedures, and so on—while leaving the actual content to others.” This is where “people way down in the hierarchy who are in touch with the situation at hand and have the requisite technical expertise” are both strategic formulators and implementors.

Perspectives on the Strategist

Given his unique views on strategy, it is not surprising that Mintzberg also has unique views on the strategist. Rather than seeing them as “a planner or…visionary, [sitting] on a pedestal dictating brilliant strategies for everyone else to implement,” he believes that the strategist should be seen “as a pattern recognizer, a learner if you will, who manages a process in which strategies (and visions) can emerge as well as be deliberately conceived… This strategist finds strategies no less than creates them, often in patterns that form inadvertently in its own behavior.”

Mintzberg states that managers who craft strategy should be “[intimately] involved, [harmoniously] responsive to their materials, learning about their organizations and industries through personal touch.” Moreover, they should be “managing stability, not change”; “they should be getting on with making their organizations as effective as possible in pursuing the strategies they already have.” Thus, in summary, Mintzberg believes that:

  1. Strategic planning is “not to create a strategy, but to program a strategy already created—to work out its implications formally”; and
  2. “To manage strategy…is not so much to promote change as to know when to do so.”

Article Summary

To recap, in this post, we covered:

  1. Who Henry Mintzberg is;
  2. The component parts, structural elements, and situational elements of the Five Organizational Configurations;
  3. The Five Minds of a Manager;
  4. Mintzberg’s managerial roles; and
  5. Crafting Strategy.

As you’ve discovered, Mintzberg offers some unique perspectives that provide valid challenges or alternatives to many management theories of the past. Therefore, it is no wonder why Mintzberg is recognized as a noteworthy contributor to management theory.

Patrick Ward
Written by Patrick Ward Follow
Hi, I'm Patrick. I made this site to share my expertise on team augmentation, nearshore development, and remote work.
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