Functionalization in relation to efficiency

A few words need to be said now about the bearing of this efficiency cri- terion upon organizational problems. In an earlier chapter it was noted that specialization in organization often follows functional lines. This functionalization involves the analysis of the organization objective into subsidiary objectives. One or more of the subsidiary objectives may be assigned to each of the organizational units.

Thus, a fire department may be divided into a fire prevention bureau, and a number of fire-fighting divisions. The function, or objective, of the for- mer will be defined in terms of prevention, that of the latter in terms of extinguishment. A health department may include a communicable diseases division, a division for prenatal care, a vital statistics division, and so forth. Similar illustrations can be found in every field of governmental service.

Under these circumstances, there will be a hierarchy of functions and objectives corresponding to the hierarchy of divisions and bureaus in the agency. In general, the hierarchical arrangement of functions will correspond to a means-end relationship. Fire losses, for instance, can be conceived as a product of number of fires by average loss per fire. Hence, a fire department might take reduction in number of fires and reduction in average loss per fire as subsidiary objectives, and assign these objectives to subsidiary units in the organization.

There are several prerequisites to effective functionalization. First, as indicated above, the general objective must be analyzed into subsidiary objectives, standing in a means-end relation with it. But further, the technology of the activity must be such that the’ work of the agency can be broken into distinct portions, each contributing primarily toward one, and only one, of the subsidiary objectives. Thus, it would be useless to divide a recreation department into “good citizenship,” “health/’ “enjoyment,” and “education” divisions. Although these might be defended as subsidiary objectives of recreation work, it would be impossible to devise a scheme of organization which would break activities into component parts, each contributing ‘ to only one of these objectives.

1. Value and Limits of Functionalization

The so-called “functional principle” of organization is thus seen to be of a rather complex nature. It assumes the possibility of a parallel function- alization of objectives and of activities. Where such parallelism is absent, the mere analysis of an objective into its components does not afford any basis for organization.

If the limitations of functionalization are apparent, so also are some of its values. For, if the activities of an organizational unit are directed toward a particular well defined objective, then the problem of decisionmaking in that unit is correspondingly simplified. The value elements to be considered in weighing alternatives can all be related to the organizational objective. A fire prevention division need consider only the impact of its activities upon the number of fires that will occur.

On the other hand, if the functionalization is unrealistic—if it does not fit the technological picture—then functionalization may lead to deterioration in the quality of decisions. For in this case the values which are affected by the unit’s activities, but which are not comprehended in the statement of the organizational objective, will be neglected in the decision-making process.

2. Specialization by “Area” and “Clientele”

The fire department of Podunk, for instance, has as its objective not “minimization of fire losses,” but “minimization of fire losses in Podunk.”

If specialization by area and specialization by clientele are merely forms of functionalization, then, to be successful they must satisfy the conditions of effective functionalization: (1) it must be technologically feasible to split the work activity, as well as the objective, along functional lines; (2) these segregated work activities must not affect, to a substantial degree, values extraneous to the specified functions.

The first point may again be illustrated by a health department. It would not be technologically feasible to divide a contagious disease pro- gram into two portions, one aiming to reduce contagious diseases among men, the other among women.

The second point will be developed at length in Chapter X. By way of illustration we need only to recall the frequent newspaper accounts of buildings which bum to the ground when a fire department refuses, or is unable, to cross a jurisdictional line.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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