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Military Organizational Structure

The military has an efficient administration structure that incorporates techniques and systems, which ensures that management of the forces activities is in order. The military organization structure clearly delineates the role that every person should play, ranging from service men to commanders in top echelons. The armed forces branches are subdivided into smaller commands, formations, and units to ensure that they function efficiently and to make it easy to control a large number of soldiers during operations. In fact, the military administration is analogous to business administration as it involves similar processes, which is why some businesses have adopted a governance structure similar to that of the military. This paper breaks down the military hierarchy structure and examines its effectiveness in decision making.

The military is considered as one of the most sensitive organization where mistakes are highly intolerable owing to potential effects that they may have. This means that decision making within the military is as guarded and limited as possible with decisions that are made being vetted carefully to ensure that results do not end up destroying the organization itself. Over the recent years, there have been a number of studies that tried to point out limitations of a hierarchical organizational structure as applied within the military, but so far, considering the amount of power that is within this organization, hierarchies remain the best form of control that is available. The hierarchical organizational structure thus basically continues defining how things are done within the military despite a number of adjustments that may have been introduced in order to match developments made in leadership research. Even though critics dismiss it as dictatorial, the hierarchical organizational structure within the military is the most effective structure for decision making, operations, and labor management.

Defining a Hierarchy

A hierarchy is basically a structure in power that is centralized at the top of the organization and where duties and responsibilities are delegated by rank. The general assumption within such contexts is that an individual joins the organization at the lowest rank and works their way to the top with time and through hard work. This idea upholds the concept of meritocracy as applied within the military organization where achievements and ranks go hand in hand (Barbaroux, 2011). This is why there still is a great correlation between ones age and ones rank within the military. Officers at the top tier always seem to be older mainly because they have served in the organization for long enough to get to the top. In a hierarchy, not all decisions are made at the top. However, each decision made has to be approved by ones superiors. For example, within a business organization if the IT personnel would like to carry out a new project or introduce a new program in the department, they would have to consult with the IT manager and get their superiors approval. Depending on how important the change is, the IT department manager may also have to consult with the operations manager or the managing director.

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This means that while all the decision making power is not necessarily consolidated at the top of the organization, most decisions have to be made in consultation with other leaders within the company in question. This is how a hierarchy works. In some cases, leaders at the top of the organization are only consulted when the decisions are important enough in relation to their implications within the organization (Mueller, 2014). Therefore, mid-level managers are also able to make final decisions when it only affects their jurisdiction and thus has no significant impact on the rest of the organization. However, considering that the majority of operations within an organization are interconnected, there is often the need for leaders to consult with other leaders on the same tier or even above them before they can be certain that their choices would not have any widespread consequences.

In such an organizational context, there is always a predictable set of advantages and disadvantages that will be experienced. An organization that has a hierarchical structure is often easier to manage because all decisions are entrusted to people who are not only qualified to make them, but are also highly experienced and well connected. As such, decisions made within a hierarchical organization are often a product of major calculations that are likely to succeed (Bj?rnstad & Lichacz, 2013). Unlike the innovative structure where members are allowed to take chances and make decisions on their own, the hierarchical structure requires that all decisions are discussed with the relevant authorities and approved before they are implemented. Correspondingly, when a decision is approved, there are many people willing to support it and justify its significance to the organization. As such, anyone with a proposal must be able to defend their ideas and prove that these ideas are relevant and beneficial to the organization (Najafian & Colabi, 2014). This is unlike the situation with the innovative structure where anyone can make a decision and they may only be required to explain or defend their decisions when things go wrong in the organization. The disadvantage here is that the process of approving a decision within a hierarchical organization is relatively longer than within any other organization.

A hierarchy implies that there is a chain of command that must be followed and if the chain is long, decisions will take longer to get approval. Organizations that have a longer chain of command are in this case likely to experience significant delays in the approval and hence in the implementation of some of their most important decisions. The advantage in this case, however, is that decisions are scrutinized thoroughly by most if not all leaders in the organization and if there is a potential threat in implementing the proposed decision, then it will be captured before approval (Soeters, van Fenema, & Beeres, 2010). This means that all the changes within the organization are only implemented if they are found to be satisfactory by the majority of the leadership in the organization. In one way or another, this is a significant advantage, especially when decisions within the organization in question could have severe implications as is the case within the military.

The Military as a Hierarchical Organization

The military is primarily an organization that is concerned with national security with a special focus on combat and other related missions that are seemingly dangerous. In most contexts, the military is known to operate with or against foreign forces. This means that activities of a nations military organization are governed by that nations foreign policy and these activities affect not only the nations stability, but also its relationship with other nations. The smallest unit of the military would be a team. Depending on its specified duties, a team can comprise of two or more soldiers with sniper teams often being the smallest and having between two and four soldiers. The team leader is usually a Sergeant and they are responsible for decisions that affect the team. The Sergeant would be expected to take full responsibility for the team and must thus be consulted on any decisions made therein. Two or more teams form a squad and it usually has nine or ten soldiers depending on teams and their mission (Soeters et al., 2010). A squad is led by a Staff Sergeant who takes responsibility for actions of all members in the squad. This means that decisions made within the squad need to be approved by the leader. Each team may have its own leaders, but these leaders are under the Staff Sergeant when working as a squad.

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A Section often comprises of a number of squads and squad leaders work under a Staff Sergeant as well. A section is usually the same as a platoon though in some cases it is used to mean a unit that is smaller than the platoon and yet larger than a squad. The platoon often has two leaders, i.e. a platoon leader and a platoon sergeant. The platoon comprises of many squads and they can contain anything between 20 and 50 soldiers depending on their objective. Two or more platoons form a company or a troop. These troops may contain between 62 and 190 soldiers depending on the platoons that have been merged and are led by one troop commander who is often a captain and is supported by a first sergeant. Two or more troops then form a battalion or a cavalry squadron. The battalion is led by one battalion commander and their supporting staff. Battalions generally have headquarters where operations are based. The regiment is the next level in the organization of the military although it does not have a commander.

Two or more battalions form a brigade and this brigade is led by a Brigadier General or a Colonel as the commander. This level of leadership in the military also has supportive staff and headquarters. A brigade is often larger and it may contain up to 5,000 or more soldiers (O’Toole, 2010). After the brigade, there is a division and corps. The division comprises of three brigades commanded by a Major General. It has an average of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers and it is considered as a tactical unit (O’Toole, 2010). The corps, in turn, consists of two or more divisions, is under a Lieutenant General, and comprises of up to 45,000 soldiers (O’Toole, 2010). The corps also often has some supporting brigades as well. The largest unit in the military is the army. The American military organization has about nine different armies. Each army in this case consists of over 20,000 soldiers and several ranking officers. The army is led by a General and, thus, this General is the highest decision making authority except for the Commander in Chief who is not necessarily a serving member of the military. There are other ranks within the army, but all major decisions often have to be made in consultation with the General and in some cases with the Commander in Chief as well.

The ranks defined above indicate a high level of complexity within the military. There are many ranks at which decisions can be made, but in cases when decisions affect a larger aspect of the operations, consultations with the higher authorities are considered to be mandatory. Considering the hierarchical nature of operations in the structure of the military, it is extremely important to note that leaders in their various capacities understand precise protocols that they must observe in order to remain effective and relevant within the military (Daft, Murphy, & Willmott, 2010). Disobeying an order from a superior within the military is a punishable offense just like going over ones commanding officers or direct bosses in decision making. One of the most consistent facts regarding how these organizations operate concerns their obedience in terms of the set protocols. A Lieutenant General is generally incapable of making decisions that affect the military significantly without consulting with other Lieutenant Generals and the General. Similarly, a platoon sergeant is not likely to make important decisions without consulting the platoon leader.

Fundamentally, decision making within the military follows a specific chain of command that does not value innovation unless there is space for verification and approval by superiors. This explains why change may be so hard to implement within the military. The number of ranks that one must convince about a proposal implies not only too much work, but also many explanations and potential hurdles along the way. This however does not mean that changes cannot be implemented. Rather, one must be willing and able to go all the way in selling their proposal and defending it to their leaders who will in turn communicate with the top leaders within the organization. The levels of leadership in this organization have about ten tiers and in each case the leader is directly under the command of immediate bosses and is not allowed to go over their bosses unless there is a really good reason.

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A hierarchical organization is particularly known for strictness with which the ranks are regarded. Within the military, breaking ranks is a crime that is punishable by law and mostly members of the military know better than to commit this crime (O’Toole, 2010). Therefore, as people move from one rank to another, they embrace the fact that they are under their immediate bosses. Thus, all their decisions are made in conjunction with people they are working with directly to maintain the status quo. Leaders within the military are only allowed to break ranks when the situation requires them to do so based on their oaths. They have to protect the country from enemies both within and externally and in some cases when they believe that the enemy is their boss, they can act appropriately for the greater good. In the recent times, improvements on innovation in the military leadership have not necessarily changed the organizational structure of the organization. Instead, individual soldiers are encouraged to come up with new ideas and share them with their superiors for evaluation and approval. This means that they are allowed and even encouraged to be innovative, but they are still bound by the concept of hierarchy.

Alternative Organizational Structures and Their Impacts on the Military

In an ideal world, the military should be able to embrace a more liberal organizational structure in order to boost performance. A free structure would, for example, allow officers to interact and make decisions on their own. Technological advances in the field of information systems have enabled concepts such as decision support systems that allow decisions to be made at any point in the organization without requiring too much back and forth in terms of approval and consultations. This system would however not work within the military because in most cases the consultation is more like a risk assessment process that is meant to ensure that any decisions made do not have a negative overall effect on the organization and the nation (Nissen, 2007). There have been numerous proposals on making the military structure more flexible, but, considering the significance of the military to the national security, a hierarchical structure remains the safest and most effective structure. This structure enables accountability and responsibility within the military organization although there have been a number of arguments against the amount of power that is concentrated at the top of the organization. High ranking officers have the ability to give orders without explaining their choices unless they are questioned by people with the authority that is higher than theirs.


In the military, leadership is highly hierarchal so that it takes a newly recruited solder many years and experience to climb the ladder to the top post, for instance, that of a general or a field marshal. The military as an institution has several ranks and for an outsider it might be difficult to comprehend how the whole system works. A leadership post such as Lieutenant General, Major General, and Brigadier General are mostly given to those solders who have been in the force for many years and have performed extra ordinary services. Each branch of the military has its different names given to a particular post though most use similar names such as those used by the British army. To ensure that these armed forces are appropriately coordinated, they have a Major General whose duty is to promote effective communication among various branches of the armed forces. In most countries, the politically elected president is the major general commandant of the armed forces who is bestowed the power of commanding the army to go into war with an enemy state or initiate peace. Besides, the department of defense led by a cabinet minister is responsible for ensuring that military issues are addressed in order to avoid cases of resentment and revolution from soldiers, which might be devastating. However, constitutions of many countries deter the armed forces from making such a move and instead the vice president or speaker of a country is entrusted with the role of overseeing operations of the country in t case the armed forces wish to stir a coup. A hierarchy is considered to be an effective organizational structure for the military considering that it has many checks and balances, which ensure that decisions made are thoroughly scrutinized. Consultations and approvals in this case simply protect the nation from hasty decisions that could start a war or put the nations citizens in danger in one way or another. The US military is particularly interesting in the way it is organized. With about ten tiers of leadership ranks, the US military is well structured in terms of accountability and responsibility in the decision making process with account for how many levels of leaders decisions must be passed through for approval depending on the scope of anticipated impacts.