P1. Explore organisation structure and culture: INTRODUCTION: All talk about organizations relies on abstract conceptions, using words and their meanings, to make sense systematically of our experience and observations of people doing things together. A great deal of organizational life can be described and, more importantly, sometimes even understood, predicted, and influenced, with abstract ideas about structure and culture.
While there is no universal agreement or consistency in definitions of structural and cultural aspects of community organizations, grassroots organizers have some common usage and understandings. Structural features of organization are formal, inflexible (except under special conditions and procedures), created and maintained by documentation, and contingency-centred: they set responsibilities, formal rights, and rewards or punishments on which individual behaviour or group action is contingent.
The structure is adopted “officially,” by explicit decision, on the basis of known rules and procedures. It determines how the organization is supposed to operate and for what purposes. Usually we mean by organizational culture those features that are informal, flexible (but often long-lived), created and maintained by word-of-mouth, and ideology-centred: they define good and bad, winning and losing, friends and enemies, etc. The cultural definitions of people, circumstances, events, objects, facts, processes, information, and so on, are essential for organizational decisions and movement.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF CULTURE & STRUCTURE Structural Features Cultural Features Contingency-centred Ideology-centred Formal Informal Fixed Flexible Documented Word-of-mouth In practice, of course, it isn’t possible to separate structure and culture.
So while we create organizational structure that spells out the positions to be filled by members of an organization, it’s mostly culture that defines the roles that go with those positions and the kinds of people who will fill them. STRUCTURE: The basic “artefact” of organizational structure is written documentation constitutions and bylaws. Usually these documents begin with the broad goals and purposes of the organization, reflecting the core values and interests of the membership, constituency, or clients.
Structural documentation may also spell out the organization’s main resource base. For instance, many organizations ordinarily define their classes of membership in their constitutions or by laws, sometimes even specifying the amount of annual dues for each. Similarly, the documentation defines formal offices or positions in the organization. But this isn’t the same as labour division, that is, as specifying who does what actual work. The documentation may also limit tax-exemption alternatives.
Understandings about decision-making arrangements are set out in structural documentation. There are five general types of organizational decisions. Structural, policy, management, supervision, and adjudication. To take one example, bylaws and constitutions define the actors and methods for making changes in the structure itself. In most grassroots organizations the total membership, meeting in annual assembly or congress, is solely empowered to change the basic structure.
Policy matters are typically left to leadership bodies meeting more frequently. And management is often delegated to staff. CULTURE: Cultural aspects of organizations are generally thought of as those that evolve in conversation and are in flux, constantly changing. In most instances organizational culture de-fines what things mean, whether they’re valued as good or bad, right or wrong, and how things are to be done when answers can’t be fixed by formal structure, policy, or procedure.
Within larger structural goals, it’s the culture that carries organizational objectives. While the broad purposes of grassroots organizing are to bring together low- and moderate income families for their political, economic, and social interests, goals that are laid out in basic documents, it’s our more specific and immediate objectives for organizing membership drives, campaigns on issues, and program development that bring those goals to life.
The objectives themselves are mostly within the culture of the organization. The culture also promotes operational ideologies, the meanings for contingencies in the organization’s daily action life. In contrast to basic values, it’s the transient operational ideology formed, shaped, and transmitted in the course of common experience and discussion about that experience that defines a double-talking city hall bureaucrat or a corporate flack-catcher as no friend of the neighbourhood.
The culture moves the organization ahead in very practical ways when it sets out the jobs that have to be done and the division of labour to do them. So while the structure may establish the positions of president, vice president, secretary, etc. , it’s the culture that says in some retrogressive organizations women will do the actual work and men will make the decisions. Culture plays another critical and parallel role by reflecting les-sons learned in the past, thus avoiding replays of crisis situations.
For instance, once an organization has learned that relying on a single leader to broker all of its internal interests creates dangerous vulnerability; its culture will encourage shared leadership. Similarly, organizations learn that relying completely on a single source of money doesn’t sustain longevity. Culture is probably felt more through its definition of roles than in any other way. It’s the culture that defines how people conceive of the reasons and routes for their actions.
Leaders are mainly under the hold of organizational culture when know that, although they may do many things, usurping the decision-making authority of the member-ship is fundamentally wrong. Similarly,staff recognition of when and when not to act often follows from an understanding of an unwritten organizing model, another facet of the organization’s culture. Overall, it’s the culture that specifies appropriate and inappropriate behaviour—reinforced by structural contingencies rewards and punishments for members, leaders, staff, and even consultants.