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Division of labor—or allocating tasks—is the keystone of structure. Every living system creates specialized roles to get important work done. Consider an ant colony: “Small workers . . . spend most of their time in the nest feeding the larval broods; intermediate- sized workers constitute most of the population, going out on raids as well as doing other

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jobs. The largest workers . . . have a huge head and large powerful jaws. These individuals are . . . soldiers; they carry no food but constantly run along the “anks of the raiding and emigration columns” (Topoff, 1972, p. 72).

Like ants, humans long ago discovered the virtues of specialization. A job (or position) channels behavior by prescribing what someone is to do—or not do—to accomplish a task. Prescriptions take the form of job descriptions, procedures, routines, protocols, or rules (Mintzberg, 1979). On one hand, these formal constraints can be burdensome, leading to apathy, absenteeism, and resistance (Argyris, 1957, 1964). On the other, they help to ensure predictability, uniformity, and reliability. If manufacturing standards, aircraft maintenance, hotel housekeeping, or prison sentences were left solely to individual discretion, problems of quality and equity would abound.

Once an organization spells out positions or roles, managers face a second set of key decisions: how to group people into working units. They have several basic options (Mintzberg, 1979):

• Function: Groups based on knowledge or skill, as in the case of a university’s academic departments or the classic industrial units of research, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and !nance.

• Time: Units de!ned by when they do their work, as by shift (day, swing, or graveyard shift).

• Product: Groups organized by what they produce, such as detergent versus bar soap, wide-body versus narrow-body aircraft.

• Customer: Groups established around customers or clients, as in hospital wards created around patient type (pediatrics, intensive care, or maternity), computer sales depart- ments organized by customer (corporate, government, education, individual), or schools targeting students in particular age groups.

• Place: Groupings around geography, such as regional or international of!ces in corporations and government agencies or neighborhood schools in different parts of a city.

• Process: Grouping by a complete “ow of work, as with “the order ful!llment process. This process “ows from initiation by a customer order, through the functions, to delivery to the customer” (Galbraith, 2001, p. 34).

Creating roles and units yields the bene!ts of specialization but creates challenges of coordination and control—how to ensure that diverse efforts mesh. Units tend to focus on

54 Reframing Organizations

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their separate priorities and strike out on their own, as New York’s police and !re departments did on 9/11. The result is suboptimization—individual units may perform splendidly in terms of their own goals, but the whole may add up to much less than the sum of the parts. This problem plagued Tom Ridge, who was named by President George W. Bush as the director of homeland security in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His job was to resolve coordination failures among the government’s many different units that dealt with security. But he was more salesman and preacher than boss, and he lacked the authority to compel compliance. Ridge’s slow progress led President Bush to create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. The goal was to cluster independent security agencies under one central authority.

As often happens, the new structure created its own problems. Folding the Federal Emergency Management Agency into the mix reduced FEMA’s autonomy and shifted its priorities toward security and away from its core mission of disaster relief. The same agency that had responded nimbly to hurricanes and earthquakes in the 1990s was slow and ponderous in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and lacked authority and budget to move without a formal okay from the new Secretary of Homeland Security (Cooper and Block, 2006).

Successful organizations employ a variety of methods to coordinate individual and group efforts and to link local initiatives with system-wide goals. They do this in two primary ways: vertically, through the formal chain of command, and laterally, through meetings, com- mittees, coordinating roles, or network structures.We next look at each of these strategies in detail.

VERTICAL COORDINATION With vertical coordination, higher levels coordinate and control the work of subordinates through authority, rules and policies, and planning and control systems.

Authority The most basic and ubiquitous way to harmonize the efforts of individuals, units, or divisions is to designate a boss with formal authority. Authorities—executives, managers, and supervisors—are charged with keeping action aligned with strategy and objectives. They do this by making decisions, resolving con”icts, solving problems, evaluating performance and output, and distributing rewards and sanctions. A chain of command is a hierarchy of managerial and supervisory strata, each with legitimate power to shape and direct the behavior of those at lower levels. It works best when authority is both endorsed by

Getting Organized 55


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subordinates and authorized by superiors (Dornbusch and Scott, 1975). In military organizations such as an aircraft carrier or a commando team, for example, the chain of command is usually clear and universally accepted. In schools and human service organizations authority relations are often fuzzier or more contested.

Rules and Policies Rules, policies, standards, and standard operating procedures are developed to ensure that individual behavior is predictable and consistent. Rules and policies govern conditions of work and specify standard ways of completing tasks, handling personnel issues, and relating to customers and others. The goal is to ensure the handling of similar situations in comparable ways and to avoid “particularism” (Perrow, 1986)—responding to speci!c issues based on personal whims or political pressures. Two citizens’ complaints about a tax bill are supposed to be treated similarly, even if one citizen is a prominent politician and the other a shoe clerk. Once a situation is de!ned as !tting a particular rule, the course of action is clear, straightforward and, in an ideal world, almost automatic.

A standard is a benchmark to ensure that goods and services maintain a speci!ed level of quality. Measurement against the standard makes it possible to identify and !x problems. During the 1970s and 1980s, American manufacturing standards lagged, while Japanese manufacturers were scrupulous in ensuring that high standards were widely known and universally accepted. In one case, an American company ordered ball bearings from a Japanese plant. The Americans insisted on what they saw as a daunting standard—no more than 20 defective parts per thousand. The order arrived with a separate bag of 20 defective bearings and a note: “We were not sure why you wanted these, but here they are.” More recently, pressure for world-class quality has spawned growing interest in “Six Sigma,” a statistical standard of near perfection (Pyzdek, 2003). Although Six Sigma has raised quality standards in many companies around the world, its laser focus on measurable aspects of work processes and outcomes has sometimes hampered creativity in innovative companies such as 3M (Hindo, 2007, pp. 8–12). Safe and measurable may crowd out the elusive breakthroughs a !rm needs.

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