By: Francois Aubin.

Centralization, while intended to standardize processes and achieve economies of scale, centralization presents significant drawbacks that hinder effective work organization, particularly in decision-making processes. It requires local units within an organization to comply with standardized policies and rely on decisions made by a central authority. This structure restricts local units from making context-specific decisions, leading to frustration and inefficiency.


The Pitfalls of Centralization

  1. Lack of Autonomy: Centralization removes decision-making power from local units, despite these units having the most relevant information about their situations. For example, employees at a local branch might understand their specific challenges and opportunities better than a distant central office. However, centralized policies prevent them from acting on this knowledge, which is demotivating and counterproductive.
  2. Inflexibility in Processes and Tools: Centralized organizations often mandate uniform processes and tools across all units. This can be problematic as different units might have varying needs that require specific solutions. For instance, a customer service representative who knows how to address a client’s issue must still seek approval from higher-ups, delaying the response and potentially frustrating both the employee and the customer.
  3. Human Nature and Job Satisfaction: Effective job performance is closely tied to an individual’s sense of control over their work. When employees are empowered to make decisions and solve problems autonomously, they are more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their jobs. Centralization, by its nature, conflicts with this principle, as it centralizes control and reduces individual autonomy.


General Principles of Work Organization


Task Description and Allocation

The design of work organizations should start with a neutral description of tasks, specifying what needs to be done without dictating how it should be performed. Tasks should then be allocated based on the inherent strengths of humans and machines. Humans excel in areas requiring creativity, problem-solving, and complex decision-making, while machines are better suited for repetitive, data-intensive tasks.


Job Design

Combining tasks into meaningful jobs is essential for creating engaging work. An interesting job typically includes:

  • Completeness: A job should be a coherent group of outcome, preparatory, production, and support tasks that provide opportunities for learning and control. For example, firefighters often find their jobs fulfilling because their tasks involve meaningful outcomes, such as saving lives, and they have the freedom to choose methods during emergencies.
  • Control:Workers should have control over their work and the ability to make decisions based on the information they possess. For instance, a doctor who knows the best treatment for a patient but cannot procure necessary equipment due to centralized budgeting will feel frustrated and hindered.
  • Variety: Jobs should alternate between easy and difficult tasks to prevent mental overstress and boredom. This variation helps maintain worker engagement and reduces fatigue.
  • Autonomy: Allowing workers to decide independently how to perform their tasks increases job interest. This autonomy includes deciding the method of working, the sequence of actions, and the place of work.
  • Contact: Jobs should facilitate interaction with others through collaboration, discussions, and informal interactions. Such contact enhances job satisfaction and fosters a supportive work environment.
  • Information: Employees need a continuous flow of information to control their tasks effectively. This includes feedback on performance and forward-looking information on job requirements.


Flexible Work Organization

  • Flexible Structures. Modern organizations benefit from flat structures that blur the boundaries between units, fostering cooperation and better serving customers. Tasks and responsibilities should be allocated to lower levels, enabling employees to collaborate in self-supporting teams. Managers should act as coaches, supporting rather than directing employees.
  • Autonomous Groups. Teamwork in autonomous groups, where employees collectively manage the entire process of product or service realization, enhances productivity, quality, and innovation. These groups, ideally consisting of 7-12 members, should have clear assignments, measurable results, and decision-making authority.
  • Coaching Management Styles. In flexible organizations, management should shift from a traditional “boss” role to a coaching role. Coaches provide information transparently, facilitate problem-solving, and support employees’ work. Effective coaching involves open communication, showing interest in employees, and a proactive approach to preventing mistakes.



Centralization, despite its intent to streamline operations, often leads to inefficiency and employee dissatisfaction. Embracing flexible, decentralized structures, autonomous groups, and coaching management styles can create engaging, productive, and adaptable work environments. These principles not only enhance job satisfaction but also contribute to overall organizational success.