A line-and-staff structure is a somewhat antiquated view of a large corporate culture. A line-and-staff system includes line departments, such as manufacturing and marketing, which are responsible from driving revenue for the company. The staff departments, such as accounting and human resources, provide internal support for line departments. Though many corporations still operate with this structure, it does have some flaws.
The contemporary division between line-and-staff departments and roles is much more gray than the historic one. Corporations often operate with intentional synergy and more-collaborative roles. Human resources, for instance, has a more strategic function of aligning talent and retention practices with long-term corporate strategy. Therefore, the traditional line-and-staff division of roles prohibits the interrelationship of departments and employees that many companies thrive on.
Division of Authority
A primary trait of a line-and-staff structure is that the roles of line leaders is more expansive than the roles of staff department leaders. Line leaders develop strategic plans and make decisions that drive revenue and impact the bottom line. Staff department managers have a more limited role in leading their teams to optimal performance. A finance manager, for instance, has a primary role of monitoring the company's finance and investment activities. This division of authority mitigates the ability of leaders across all departments to collaborate. The company's bottom line is ultimately impacted by the efforts of all departments.
Another result of the division of roles is tension or conflict between line departments and staff departments. Staff department leaders may blame line leaders for company failures since they make strategic decisions. Staff managers also feel helpless, at times, given that their roles in accounting or human resources have limited influence on revenue-generation. Employees in departments may also experience tension. If a sales representative needs a warehouse manager to expedite a shipment, a traditional line-and-staff structure may compel him to issue a directive rather than making a respectful request. A line-and-staff approach contradicts a one-for-all, team culture.
The potential for high staff turnover rates exists when a corporation maintains a traditional line-and-staff approach to compensation. A May 2011 article in the University of Texas at Austin business newsletter indicated that line employees receive higher pay and incentives because they take greater risks. Salespeople earn high commissions for high sales amounts, for instance. Staff workers earn straight salaries that are lower than what line coworkers get. While some delineation in salaries is common and dictated by supply and demand in the job market, a corporation must develop some semblance of internal fairness to avoid constant turnover at the staff level.