And now back to school 🙂 Revising our discussion in class on Thurs the 17 Nov …….

Most organizations that we come across are structured to incorporate Line & Staff positions. Having a Line & Staff structure makes sense as both have distinct roles to play. Line people are the ones who contribute directly to the operation or service and Staff is in support or advisory role. Line specifies the chain of command or line of authority. Line moves the work flow forward as it involves procurement – manufacturing or assembly – sales – retail. Staff includes functional specialists, R&D scientists, Designers, Manufacturing (not shop floor level), marketing strategic or policy, HR, Finance Director (also called CFO) and CIOs and Director Internal communication.

Line & Staff

Why the distinction  

Each has a different role and clarifying the same avoids functional dilemmas.  The relationship between the two is interesting. Generally the Line is considered as the action guys – the sleeves rolled-up types and Staff are viewed as the chair-bound support folk. This perception exists because Line contributes to the production volumes, sales turnover, revenue generation and profitability. A few years ago Jigar Patel an ex-student had given a nice explanation for the difference between the two – “Line has the authority to take decisions and is accountable whereas the Staff deals with the paper work and policy making and not authorised to take decisions on ground issues. The Staff advice is not mandatory for the Line to follow as the responsibility of outcomes lies on the latter.

Staff personal could either be pure specialists or may have had Line experience in earlier assignments. Their advice can be valuable or at times may not be practical due to difficulty in visualizing the ground realities objectively. But if the latter happens too often the Line may view them as ‘has-beens’ and ivory tower folk. In extreme cases depending upon individual personalities the differences may get accentuated leading to tension and conflict.

Role of Staff

The Staff also plays an important role of collecting information progress reports and other data on a regular basis. This analyzed and CEO briefings at HQ levels are done frequently. This too can become another source of difference. Line which is otherwise busy dealing with hitches and problems and dead-lines does not like to be reminded by Staff to expedite their reports. However Staff members earn respect from the Line if they exercise tact and adopt a helpful attitude towards the Line.

In a globalized world organizations have operations in several countries as such Staff advice and support if ignored may prove detrimental. As they act as coordinators between business units and conduct valuable liaison functions that help the ground executives to perform better.

Role of top management to maintain balance

It is the top management team that needs to boost the importance of Staff and acknowledge their contribution as valuable. Staff role is to analyse the data and information and disseminate to appropriate country managers or product divisions. They also play a strategic role, plan and   forecast way ahead being free from the nitty-gritty issues of the shop –floor. Line is preoccupied with the ‘here & now’ of fire-fighting in the trenches.

Drawing a simile from the Army in all the Armies of the world Staff plays a very important role in the overall functioning of the organization. And officers who are bright and have done well in executive assignments on ground are selected to undergo a comprehensive Staff College Course to equip them better in their staff roles. They are looked up in respect and their communications considered seriously by the ground executives.

It is the top management who is responsible to maintain a good balance between Line and Staff. They must take care not to overlook the Staff and deal with the Line directly unless in urgent situations. The organization can thus enable a harmonious climate with high morale and productivity.

Questions & comments are welcome! Keep smiling 🙂

About dilipnaidu

An open mind! Love to share my thoughts and a keenness to learn. An engineer and a MBA I had a wonderful innings in the Army and later moved to consultancy and teaching. My current interests are music and growing culinary herbs. Love to play golf and do yoga regularly. I am serious on "Living life less seriously". A warm welcome to you be well and be cheerful always.

11 responses »

  1. girish says:

    Respected sir,

    Thank you for a beautiful and highly comprehensive article which is clearly interprets the roles of line and staff in organizations. The diagram also clears the confusion some have on HR being staff. Thank you.




  2. Shri says:

    This is article is just superb. I learnt from this article is that Line and staff organizations combine the direct course of authority present within a line organization with staff departments that offer support and advice. A clear chain of understanding is a consistent characteristic among line and staff organizational structures. Problems of conflict can arise, but organizations that clearly explain responsibility can help minimize such conflict.
    Thank you very much sir for this article.



  3. Sachin Macwan says:

    Hi! Sir. I just went through your informative article on “Line & Staff”. I still remember the same question was asked in our quiz too and glad to share that I addressed in proper direction. It was thrilling experience to go through your article. The term Line & Staff basically derived from the defense. Line divisions are directly connected in producing good and services to the sell. Some of the most beautiful examples of line divisions are Marketing, Logistics (in bound & outbound), Sales & Production, Research & Development related work. While Staff division has to support & control the execution of the business activities. Some of the examples are HR, IT and Finance departments. Line activity is the chain of command which executes the command; Staff activity is to obey the command and follow as per the instructions. The roles of both activities are very crucial. However; Line is always in front when staff is backbone of the organization.


  4. Sinh Nguyen says:

    In an organization, especially FMCG the line member usually blame to staff member for low sales volume, some of the reasons usually are bad marketing campaigns and lack of administration support. On the other hand, the staff members argue that it was because the sales skills and customer dealing ability of line member. So the role of manager is not only maintain the balance between the line & staff members in orgainzation but also be a middle man for such conflicts.


    • Dilip says:

      Oh hi Sinh a warm welcome to you. Your explanation of Line and Staff in the context of a FMCG is excellent. I am tempted to up-load and insert it on the blog post itself and share it with our readers.

      Thanks friend I appreciate.


  5. pdhillon says:

    Hi Sir, hope you are doing good :). Just went through this blog and it was inspiring for me. More than knowing the difference on Line and Staff, I was inspired to learn both roles of ‘operations’ and ‘on-desk’ in real life and to become efficient in managing. I am a fan of your knowledge and how you remembered and acknowledged contibution of your student in your blog. Kudos! to you and you too keep smiling.


    • Dilip says:

      Wow I am delighted and happy that you found this post useful and such positive feedback becomes my inspiration. Yes I do hold my students in very high esteem and I find them so full of life and energy. You are one of them!

      Cheers 🙂


  6. girish says:

    Respected sir,

    Thank you for a very well written article with its interdependence and importance of the top management for maintaining the balance for organizational effectiveness and healthy structure and decentralization . It has cleared my many doubts.




  7. […] reading here: Line & Staff – a contentious relationship « dilipnaidu's blog Tags: earlier-assignments-, ground, isualizing-the-ground, may-have, practical-due, the-ground, […]


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