Work Specialization is a key element of organizational structure

In organized structure how job tasks are formally divided, grouped and coordinated. There are six key elements that manages need to address when they design their organizations structure. These are: work specialization, departmentalization chain of command, span of control, centralization and decentralization and formalization. The following sections describe these six elements of structure.

Early in the twentieth century, Henry Ford became rich and famous by building automobiles on an assembly line. Every Ford worker was assigned a specific, repetitive task. For instances one person would just put on the right front wheel and someone else would install the right front door. By breaking jobs up into small standardized tasks, which could be performed over and over every 10 seconds while using employees who had relatively limited skills.

Ford demonstrated that work can be performed more efficiently if employee area allowed to specialize. Today we use the term work specializations or division of labor, to describe the degree to which activities in the organization are subdivided into separate jobs. The essence of work specialization is that rather than an entire job being done by one individual it is broken down into a number of steps with each step being completed by a separate individual. In essence individuals specialize in doing part of an activity rather to the entire activity.

By the late 1940s most manufacturing jobs in industrialized countries were being done with high work specialization. Management saw this as a means to make the most efficient use in its employee skills. In most organizations some tasks require highly developed skills and others can be performed by untrained workers. If all workers were engaged in each step of, say and organizations; manufacturing process al would have to have the skills necessary to perform both the most demanding and the least demanding jobs. The results would be that, except when performing the most skilled or highly complex tasks, employees would be working below their skills levels. And because skilled workers are paid more than unskilled workers and their wages tend to reflect their highest level of skill, it represents an inefficient use of organizational resources to pay highly skilled workers to do easy tasks.

Managers also saw other efficiency that could be achieved through work specialization. Employee skills of performing a task successfully increase through repetition. Less time is spent in changing tasks, in putting away one’s tools and equipment from a prior step in the work process, and in getting ready for another. Equally important, training for specialization is more efficient from the organization’s perspective. It’s easier and less costly to find and train workers to do specific and repetitive tasks. This is especially true of highly sophisticated and complex operations. For example could Cessna produce one Citation jet a year if one person had to build the entire plane alone? Not likely! Finally, work specializations increases efficiency and productivity by encouraging the creations of special inventions and machinery.

For such of the first half of the twentieth century, managers viewed work specialization as an unending source of increased productivity. And they were probably RIGHT. Because specialization was not widely practiced, its practiced its introduce almost always generated higher productivity. But by the 1960s there came increasing evidence that a good thing can be carried too far. The point had been reached in some jobs at which the human diseconomies from specialization – which surface as boredom, fatigue, stress, low productivity, poor quality, increased absenteeism and high turnover – more than offset the economic advantages. In such cases, productivity could be increased by enlarging rather than narrowing, the scope of job activities. In addition, a number of companies found that by giving employees a variety of activities to do allowing team to do a whole and complete job, and putting them into teams with interchangeable skills, they often achieved significantly higher output with increased employer satisfaction.

Most managers today see work specialization as neither obsolete nor an unending source of increased productivity rather managers recognize the economies it provides in certain types of jobs and the problems it creates when it’s carried too far. You’ll find, for example, high work specialization being used by McDonald to efficiently make and sell hamburgers and fries, and by medical specialists in most health maintenance organizations. On the other hand, companies like Saturn Corporation have had success by broadening the scope of jobs and reducing specialization.

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