Basic information about organisations
As part of vocational learning, students are placed in both large and small organisations. Organisations are complex, goal directed social systems made up of many individuals who work together to achieve particular goals. The size of organisations varies from a small group of people to many thousands. One of the key issues in achieving goals is coordinating people’s work. As part of your orientation to host organisations, an understanding of 1) organisational structures; 2) management; and 3) issues that people face on a day-to-day basis is essential. This module covers these three issues.
Structures are essential for effective and efficient organisational functioning. Many of you will be familiar with organisational charts based on a hierarchy or matrix. This is the organisational structure, and refers to the formal and reporting relationships that exist between people. It tells employees their relative position in the organisation compared to other people. Such structures are essential for effective management but they also tell us about supervisory arrangements, and the range of services and products provided. Clear structures reduce uncertainty, enable the achievement of objectives in a short amount of time and facilitate the coordination of activities.
The bureaucracy: a particular organisational structure
There are several different organisational structures, but many students will be familiar with a bureaucratic structure. A bureaucracy is a particular organisational model where there are principles, procedures and regulation to ensure that decisions are fair and achieve organisational objectives. Max Weber said that bureaucratic organisations had a number of similar characteristics that included a hierarchy of authority, a system of rules and procedures, clearly defined responsibilities and authority for each job in the organisation (some organisations refer to this as the job and person specification), and written records.
Organisations have clearly specified objectives, although the word objective is not frequently used. Objectives are states that are desired by organisations, thus they are important to an organisation’s formation and existence. These objectives can be part of a vision statement, which is an image about what the organisation should be like. Many organisations include statements about values and beliefs, which show how they regard people (their clients, patients, community and employees) and carry out their activities. Not all objectives are clearly stated and some may not be achievable. Nevertheless they are important.
A small group of people is given legal responsibility to govern the business or not-for-profit organisation. This group of people is called the ‘board of directors’. They have a responsibility to provide the strategic direction and leadership of the organisation - to establish policies, overview financial management and hire the chief executive. They also have particular legal responsibilities. There is great variation in the way boards conduct their affairs, with some providing strong policy directions and others taking guidance and direction from the chief executive.
Managers and managing
Management is a process that brings together people and
resources in a purposeful, coordinated way to ensure that the organisation’s
objectives and goals are achieved. Managers undertake a number of tasks,
including planning, organising, coordinating, activating and controlling
processes. Another way of looking at management is to think that managers
provide the leadership for the organisation and the people who work within
it. This suggests that management is responsible for developing goals and
ensuring these are carried out. In large organisations there are many management
levels. The closer managers are to the top of the organisation, the more
they are engaged in strategic and conceptual work.
Professional organisations and large organisations employ supervisors who are responsible for the organisation’s day-to-day work. As a student you will often be responsible to these people for your practice. Supervisors work at the interface of management, workers and clients.
Budgeting and control of resources is a critical issue in all organisations. Some budgeting and financial management is highly technical. Budgeting can be a very political process when a determination is made about who gets what, when and how. It can also be a source of division, especially between those who manage the finances and those who spend the money. As a student you may not have the opportunity to participate in the budget process - it can be regarded as confidential, you may not be in the organisation at the time of the budget planning, or it is not relevant to your learning activities.
Human resource management
Organisations involve people and in large organisations human resources personnel are given the task of managing those people (as resources). The range of activities undertaken in this area includes:
Conflict is inevitable in any organisation, whether large or small. This can range from small differences of opinion to such intensity that relationships between people become dysfunctional. Once the conflict has been manifested, management issues arise. We would not expect students to get caught up in an internal conflict but this can happen, even on short placements. Sometimes you will get drawn in because your supervisor is a party to the conflict. The key issue for all students is to understand the organisational processes and procedures for managing conflict. Generally there are positive ways to deal with conflict. Human resources may have procedures in place to ensure mediation, conciliation, various conferences or even early containment. If the policies and procedures are not helpful, it is essential for you to discuss the conflict with your university liaison person.
Values and culture
The culture of an organisation is essentially its personality. Every organisation differs depending on the clients served, organisational values, products delivered, traditions, history and public presence. Culture will vary from organisation to organisation. You might expect that a hospital providing services to diggers would value Anzac Day and Australia Day, and the traditions associated with these events. On the other hand, an organisation that undertakes research for industry might value particular skills that include entrepreneurial habits, fast paced work and high risk behaviour. Similarly, organisations that provide highly skilled technical or professional services might have particular values about professional conduct and behaviour, and treatment of the client group. Understanding the organisational culture can be of value in determining whether this is the right placement for you.