i387c managing information services and organizations






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Module 2. Unit 3: The Structure and Nature of Organizations

It probably would not be an exaggeration to claim that the vast majority of everything that has been written about management and organization over the course of this century [1900's]... has had as its model, usually implicitly [the hierarchical] form of organization. With its dominant vertical hierarchy sharp divisions of labor, concentration on standardization, obsession with control, and of course, appreciation of staff functions in general and planning in particular..." (Mintzberg, 1979)

Classical management theorists asserted that for a group of people to work toward a particular goal there really was only one way to structure the organization with each person with his or her assigned functions. Today with the ebb and flow of economic factors, rapid pace of change in the demand for and the development of new technology, there is no one structure that works for all organizations.

There is much more to understanding an organization than how it is structured on "paper." Most organizational members will confirm that while organizational structure often dictates lines of authority, responsibility, and function, there often are other equally (or more) important lines of communication and power and influence. Ethnographic and organizational behavioral studies have demonstrated individual organizations may appear to be similar, but upon close examination exhibit their own unique culture: rules for behavior, communication, celebration, ethics, etc.

To be effective managers it is essential to understand the complexity of the nature of organizations and their various structures. First, you must understand the definition organizational culture and the nature of organizations. Additionally, there are key theories that contribute to our understanding of organizational cultures.

Organizational Culture

Generally, defining culture can be a challenge because of the numerous meanings interpretations of the concept. To some extent, the number of academic disciplines (anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and communication) seeking clarification, agreement, and understanding of the concept of culture illustrates the term's almost limitless, subtle nuances, connotations, and particularized definitions. Most scholars, however, agree that the study of culture seeks to identify and to order patterns and themes of the symbols, rules, and beliefs common to a particular social group. Culture is both something people have and something that happens to them (Agar, 1994).

Organizational cultures (also referred to as corporate culture) develop and, to some extent, enforce their own rules for behavior. Culture filters the ways in which people see and understand their worlds, both prescribing some behaviors and forbidding others. Organizational cultures influence and are influenced by organizational structures.

Organizing divides an organization into smaller and more manageable units and make the work of an organization compatible with that accomplished in other units. The classical management thinkers viewed organizations as stable structures, almost always arranged in hierarchical fashion, with the power and vision flowing in an orderly fashion from the individuals at the top of the organization to those below.

As Peter Drucker points out in an issue of Forbes magazine, "Fayol laid down the principle that there is one right structure for every enterprise: a functional division into engineering, manufacturing, selling, finance, and personnel, each division to be managed separately and to come together only at the level of the chief executive."

World War II changed that concept some, because massive organizations were needed for the war effort. A highly centralized management structure no longer worked because decision making had to be pushed down into the organization. Today everything is "team organization." But Drucker says, "By now, it should be clear that there is no such thing as the one right organization ... It is not an absolute ... it is a tone for making people productive in working together. As such a given organizational structure fits certain tasks in certain conditions at certain times." He also adds that one hears a great deal today about "the end of hierarchy." This he views as blatant nonsense. In any institution, there has to be a final authority, that is a boss, someone, who can make the final decision and expect to be obeyed in a situation of common peril (like a ship at sea). However, sometimes the team approach is the right approach.

Organizations exist to make ordinary human beings perform better than they seem capable of, to bring out whatever strength there is in its members, and to use its strength to help all the other members perform. Managers reinforce the culture of an organization by:

  1. What they pay attention to.
  2. The way they react to critical crises and incidents.
  3. How they allocate rewards.
  4. The way they carry out role modeling and coaching.
  5. The methods used for promotion and dismissal.
  6. Various organizational rites and ceremonies.

It is important to understand that there is always an informal organization existing around the formal one.

==> Continue to Module 2 Unit 4





Mintzberg, H. Effective Organizations: Forces and Forms.


Locate an organization chart for an organization that is similar to that in which you hope to work. If the organization does not have one, interview staff at various levels and create an organization chart specific to the organization.

Discussion Board

Critique the organizational structure for clarity, effectiveness, and efficiency and economy. Post your critique and either a link to the organization chart or attach it to your posting to the general class Web discussion group entitled Organizational Structure.

Due June 11 11:30pm
thanks to patrick williams for template design
Last update 7 june 2006