Formalized Structures are Eventually Ineffecient

Organizations and Organizing mentions the development of a type of rational system known as a formalized structure. Organizations design formalized structures by making the rules and roles of its members clear and explicit. This makes the social structure and flow of information obvious so that the organization’s performance is easily predictable and there is an elimination of power struggles. Additionally, it makes it so that the organization is separate from the individuals. Formalized structures are types of rational systems considered to maximize an organization’s efficiency. However, it seems soooooooo obvious that these key elements supporting the formalized structure could actually lead to decreased efficiency.

Brave New World is a classic piece of fiction written by Aldous Huxley that I believe demonstrates the problems with a formalized structure. In the book, Huxley describes a “Brave New World” that is a “world of tomorrow in which capitalist civilization has been reconstituted through the most efficient scientific and psychological engineering” (Huxley, Book Synopsis). In this world, the government genetically engineers 3 types of people. There are the leaders and thinkers, the less intellectual, and the stupefied. The book debates if the standardization of people is dehumanizing— or if stability is more significant than humanity. It ultimately concludes the scariness of living in the “Brave New World” where human life does not seem worth living. The formalized structure seems like it would have the same consequences as the fictional “Brave New World.” It too places more value on job standardization and stability than on creativity and flexibility. With a person feeling their job function is standardized, will they ever feel significant within their role? I believe in the United States if people’s jobs are all subject to the formalized system the end result will be a lack of enthusiasm, quitting, and the demise of an organization.

Nickel and Dimed seems to be another piece demonstrating the problems of the formalized structure. Barbara Ehrenreich’s description of working at Wal-Mart where her job is standardized sounds highly oppressive. She says that for her manager, “the layout is about the only thing she can control, since [all else is] determined by the home office in Arkansas.” (Ehrenreich 156). The work “requires minimal human interaction, of either the collegial or the supervisor sort, largely because it is so self-defining” (Ehrenreich 157). If the workers do not do exactly as instructed, Wal-Mart makes them aware they can easily replace them. This leaves workers with jobs that have no intrinsic value; and so, they begin to ask questions like “Why do we—work here? Why do we stay?” (Ehrenreich 179). With these types of questions, I do believe there is a big storm brewing over Wal-Mart and organizations with similar formalized structures. There is a consequence to efficiency through standardization.

Formalized structures may lead to increased efficiency INITALLY. However, with the general discomfort toward formalization as discussed in Brave New World and Nickel and Dimed, I am lead to believe that formalization has long term consequences. I am also lead to question the intentions and ethics of the organizations that institute them. Wal-Mart, Nike, and others which have formalized systems, seem to put employees in some of the most terrible working conditions, and worse yet, leave them without a voice. In this way, I really do question the long-term effectiveness of the formalized structure.

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One Response

  1. There is one thing that will always keep these formalized structures very efficient: the need for jobs in America. We are at a historical rate of unemployment. Another book that displays a formal structure is Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. This book goes through the horror that was the meat packing industry in the early 20th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jungle) . The job conditions here were much worse than the Wal-Mart working conditions (adults had skin diseases from walking around in knee deep carcass slop; children would get fingers caught in machinery and lose them; insert more disgusting, graphic images here). The reason that conditions never went away (until the book was published and the government was forced to listen) is that jobs were such a valuable commodity. If a “cog in the machine” stopped working, then it was easy to go out an pull another one from the droves of people waiting for work. This is similar to Wal-Mart today. They can get away with such a formalized structure (and keep it efficient!) because there are so many people looking to make a buck. If an employee is not working to Wal-Mart standards, then they can be replaced.

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