The limitation on the number of subordinates that can be directly managed would restrict the size of enterprises if it were not for the device of organizing work in departments. Grouping activities and people into departments makes it possible to expand organizations at least in theory to an indefinite degree. Departments, however, differ with respect to the basic patterns used to group the activities. The nature of these patterns developed out of logic and practice, and their relative merits will be dealt with in the following paragraphs.
At the outset, it must be emphasized that there is no single best way of organizing departments that is applicable to all organizations or to all situations. The pattern used will depend on given situations and on what managers believe will yield the best results for them in the situation they face.
Departments by simple numbers
Departments, by simple numbers was once an important method in the organization of tribes, clans, and armies. Although it is rapidly falling into disuse, it still may have certain applications in modern society.
The simple-numbers method of departments is achieved by tolling off persons who are to perform the same duties and putting them under the supervision of a manager. The essential fact is not what these people do, where they work, or what they work with; it is that the success of the undertaking depends only upon the number of people involved in it.
Even though a quick examination may impress an investigator with the number of people organized into departments on human resource basis, the usefulness of this organizational device has declined with each passing century. For one thing, technology has advanced, demanding more specialized ad different skills. In the United States, the last stronghold of common labor was agriculture, and even here it is restricted ore and more to the harvesting of fewer and fewer crops as farming operations become larger and more specialized.
A second reason for the decline of forming departments purely by number is that groups composed of specialized personnel are frequently more efficient than those based merely on numbers. The reorganization of the defense forces of the United States on this basis is a case in point. People skilled in the use of different types of weapons have been combined into single units. For example, the addition of artillery and tactical air support to the traditional infantry division makes it a much more formidable fighting unit than it would be if each where organized separately.
A third and long-standing reason for the decline of departments by numbers is that it is useful only at the lowest level of the organization structure. As soon as any factor other than pure human power becomes important, the simple numbers basis of department fails to produce good results.
Formation of Departments by time
One of the oldest forms generally used at lower levels of the organization, is grouping activities on the basis of time. The use of shifts is common in many enterprises where for economic, technological, or other reason the normal workday will not suffice. Examples of this kind of department formation can be found in hospitals, where roundâ€“the-clock patient care is essential. Similarly, the fire department has to be ready to respond to emergencies at any time. But there are also technological reasons for the use of shifts. A steel furnace, for example, cannot be turned on and off at will; the process of making steel is continuous ad requires workers to work in three shifts. The same logic applies to process industries and as well as factories working all 3 shifts.