scalar chain

What Is Scalar Chain? Definition, Principle’s Explanation

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We all know that lack of communication can lead to disaster, and in a business sense, effective communication means time spent and reduced revenue. Henri Fayol brought in the Scalar Chain Principle as the 9th of his 14th Principles of Management, which addresses the matter of communication.

Scalar Chain is the about how information should flow through an organization. It requires a linear flow of communication from the top down and the bottom up. The Scalar Chain works to have information flow so that there is a defined chain of command and sharing of responsibility.

Following a strict chain of command for information helps ensure everyone knows what they need to know. It does, however, have some drawbacks. Let us go through what the Scalar Chain Principle means, how it works, and why it can be both a practical and hindering Principle to follow.

scalar chain

Scalar Chain Principle of Management Definition

The Scalar Chain Principle can be defined as the linear flow of information from the upper levels of management down to the workers on the ground. The word ‘scalar’ comes from the Latin scalaris, which means ladder. This provides a good image of how the Scalar Chain Principle works, as information must go up and down each ladder rung.

The Scalar Chain describes the series of supervisors and managers that information must pass through from the highest levels of authority to the lowest levels.

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scalar chain

How Scalar Chain Differ From Other Principles

The Scalar Chain principle helps to describe how information should flow; it provides the blueprint for the route of data within an organization. Unity of Command is another principle, but this Principle focuses solely on who an employee can get instruction from, generally being a single individual who is their direct superior.

Scalar Chain has much to do with hierarchy; unlike other principles, the order is essential to its overall function. The hierarchal process can only be bypassed in emergencies and for efficiency by employing the gangplank principle, which allows those of the same rank to communicate along their level.

Scalar Chain is the organizational chain of command, and it is used to assist staff in knowing who to go to and how to move information, be it up or down the line of authority.

While Scalar Chain is similar to the Authority principle, this is only in so far as the information being linked to the authority and responsibility and the route the data taken is based on the hierarchal layout of the organization.

scalar chain

How Does It Work?

The Scalar Chain Principle works simply in that information is relayed from one level in an organization to another by maintaining a strict order from top to bottom and again from the lowest levels of the staff back up through the various management levels to the very top.

It can be almost impossible in an organization of over 1000 employees to get a message across without a well-organized system. The Scalar Chain provides such a communication system with the strict transfer of information from one level to the next, reducing the possibility of miscommunication.

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The Scalar Chain Principle also ensures that direction and authority are limited to the upper levels of management, as all instruction must come from that tier and then be communicated down the line.

Many felt that the strict hierarchal nature of the principle could be problematic in an emergency, as waiting for information to filter up or down along predetermined lines can lead to delay. Fayol bypassed this by implementing the gangplank principle, where managers on the same level can communicate between themselves if required.

So managers in different sections can confer with each other rather than have to pass information upwards and wait for it to be sent back down the line again.

This step helps to reduce waiting time for specific actions to be performed and helps to circumvent disaster during an emergency, and improves efficiency.

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Scalar Chain Example

To better illustrate the Scalar Chain Principle, one can imagine that a decision is made right at the top with senior management (1). This decision must then be communicated with the rest of the staff.

In a big organization that may be spread out over a large area and even over many properties, it makes it easier if number 1 only needs to communicate with a small group who will, in turn, do the same. As such, number 1 will have a management meeting with the junior managers of different sections (2A and 2B).

2A and 2B will relay the information to their senior staff members (3A1 and 3A2, and 3B1 and 3B2), who will, in turn, pass the information down to the junior staff complement for action.

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When it comes to emergencies or just assisting in production, the gangplank can be used; instead of staff member number 3A1 needing to confer with 3B1 communicating upwards to 2A and, in turn, from 2A to 1 and back down again, 3A1 can consult directly across the management level with 3B1.

This saves time and helps the business operation move smoothly.

businessman scalar chain


The Scalar Chain principle is a commonly used business principle that helps organizations ensure clear-cut communication lines that allow for the movement of information from the highest authority down to the lowest. This assists staff in knowing how best to transfer information across the organization.


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