What are the different types of organizational structure and how can they provide a basis for the development of a sense of community among its members or employees or satisfy individuals' needs...

What are the different types of organizational structure and how can they provide a basis for the development of a sense of community among its members or employees or satisfy individuals' needs for belonging. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in having most of your important social ties (outside your family) with colleagues at work?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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There are a number of different organizational structures that various businesses use, but the three core types are functional, divisional, and matrix.  Some discussions of organizational structures include categories like pre-bureaucratic, bureaucratic, and post-bureaucratic, but for purposes of responding to the posted question, the three core options specified should suffice, although brief mention will also be made of horizontal versus vertical structures, with the latter most representative of corporate structures.

Functional structures, as the name suggests, divides the organization into subgroups identified by areas of responsibility.  For example, marketing, research, sales, customer service, and accounting will each have their own “box” on the organizational chart.  This is a very common type of structure, as it maximizes efficiency by keeping each part of the organization in a self-contained arrangement.  The downside to a functional structure, however, is that it, by its nature, creates “walls” between sections that can reduce coordination across the larger organization.  In other words, the people in sales are on “the same sheet of paper,” so to speak, but may have little insight into what the folks in research or in marketing are working on, which can lead to miscommunications.

The next major type of organizational structure is divisional.  Divisional structures are generally more characteristic of very large corporations that have multiple product lines – possibly even lines with little or no relationship between each other.  In addition, corporations structured along divisional lines may have divisions that are individually large enough to support a functional structure by themselves.  Examples of corporations that fit this description include Proctor & Gamble, Yum! Brands, and General Electric.  Yum! Brands is a conglomeration of large food service companies that includes Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, among others.  Each division functions independently, although some retail outlets merge operations.

The final major structure is a hybrid of the first two called matrix.  Functional divisions exist, but the management structure is organized in such a way that cross-pollination is encouraged and communications among and between sectors is a routine practice.  Large government contractors like SAIC and Booz Allen and Hamilton are organized in a matrix structure, with individual employees moving throughout multiple sectors or divisions to work on projects as needed. 

Whether and how each type of structure facilitates the development of human relationships is a function of management style more than of organizational structure.  Meeting individual needs for belonging is not the purpose of a business.  The purpose of the business is to make a profit (obviously, not-for-profit organizations are a different matter), and to become self-sustaining.  Most organizations, however, function better when individual employees or members have a shared feeling of belonging.  Loyalty is a two-way street, and how management treats its employees can determine how well those employees view their place within the organization.  Ideally, members or employees feel comfortable and fulfilled, but, in the case of employees of a business, the need for a paycheck trumps other considerations. 

With respect to social relationships and cases where a preponderance of those relationships exist within the workplace, different types of jobs and different types of organizations provide different opportunities.  Efficient working relationships frequently translate into closer personal relationships.  Depending upon the type of organization, workers might be together 40 to 80 hours per week, with little opportunity outside of the workplace for social interaction.  In addition, corporate-sponsored activities like softball or bowling leagues foster closer personal relationships that breed greater cordiality in the workplace.  Some people make a point of leaving their jobs, and relationships tied to their jobs, at the workplace.  Once home, there is little to no thought given to the workplace, with total focus on family and/or leisure activities independent from one’s job.  Individuals employed in particularly stressful types of work, for example, police and firefighters as well as hospital staff, tend to congregate at the same places when not at work because it is only their colleagues with whom they can relate to each other.  Only police officers know what it’s like to deal with crime day-in and day-out; and what it means to be engaged in life-and-death situations on a regular basis.  Alcoholism and divorce rates are high among such professions, but the individuals in question can always confide in each other.

There is nothing wrong with maintaining strong personal relationships with the people with whom one works.  Very often, coworkers have more in common than with each other than with other people, including immediate family members.  To the extent individuals find gratification in associating with people not affiliated with their jobs, that is perfectly fine; relationships born out of shared professional experiences, however, tend to be the strongest.

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