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Organizations: An Overview Of Functions, Types And Purposes

Over the years, literally thousands of books and articles have been written about organizations, associations and groups. Their role, effectiveness, structure and management have been the subject of scholarly articles, news flashes and popular self help guru’s books and seminars. This article addresses a few more common types of groupings and their advantages and disadvantages.

An organization, by definition, is a collection of people or other entities in a structured arrangement. The root is ‘to organize’. Most associations are organized in some fashion, but groups are typically a looser formation that may not have a precise structure. Groups may or may not have a stated purpose. Associations often do prepare a mission statement. An organization in modern times, has determined that mission statements allow the purpose of the unit to be accomplished much more readily.

One way in which these three units may be compared and contrasted is in the length of life span. Groups tend to be much more fluid and may form for a single event, such as a rally, protest or performance. Fans at a rock concert may be described as a group of people. Once the concert is completed, they are still fans, but do not usually hold on to an identity. One exception to this might be the Woodstock experience.

Associations usually have a longer life span. They may organize themselves and define a purpose for being. They may elect or appoint officers, managers or other formal employees. Associations may provide scholarships to students, participate in philanthropic activities, lobby for political actions or prepare policy statements. State bar associations are an example of this type of structure. They choose members through examinations, maintain ethical standards, and engage in humanitarian efforts jointly.

When most people consider the term organization, they think of a business structure. The business usually has a well-defined structure, often with paid employees. There are businesses structures that are designed as profit-generating units while others are non-profit. A mission statement is important in defining the overall purpose of the business.

The organization should also define both short and long-term goals. The description of the way in which those goals will be accomplished is a business plan. Without the mission statement, goals and business plan, most businesses will flounder, whether they are for-profit or non-profit units. In a business structure, there are clearly defined levels of responsibility and authority. Each employee or member of the organization should know their duties and to whom to report.

In recent years, many businesses have tried various organizational structures, some with good success and others that prove to be less effective. Team building is one such example. A business divides itself into one or more teams the have a clear picture of what they are to accomplish. It is left to the members of the team to work together in order to define different ways of doing things that might prove to take the business in an entirely new direction.

Organizations that are willing to try new ideas often are more successful both from a financial standpoint and from the standpoint of satisfied employees. In a time of economic uncertainty, new methods and ideas sometimes are shelved. It is often these very ideas that can assist in pulling the business out of an economic hardship model into renewed prosperity. 

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