formal and informal structure
formal and informal structurethe distinction between procedures and communications in an organization which are prescribed by written rules, and those which depend more upon ad hoc, personal interaction within work groups. The contrast between formal and informal structure (or organization) emerged from the debate about Weber's IDEAL TYPE OF BUREAUCRACY within ORGANIZATION THEORY (Compare ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE). Critiques of Weber's idealtype focused upon the neglect of informal organization and the ways in which adherence to formal rules can lead to inefficiency and detract from the official goals of an organization. see also GOAL DISPLACEMENT.
The Hawthorne Experiments were a famous example of the study of informal norms and expectations in work groups (see HAWTHORNE EFFECT, HUMAN RELATIONS SCHOOL). Studies in organizational sociology have demonstrated the ways in which informal practices bend or circumvent formal rules. From a functionalist perspective, such practices may be seen as conducive to organizational commitment (Katz, 1968), while other studies (e.g. Beynon, 1973), emphasize the role of informal work groups as forms of resistance and opposition to the aims of management.
The distinction between formal and informal structure has also been elaborated and operationalized as a key structural variable in organizations. The extent of formalization has been measured empirically in comparisons between organizational types (see CONTINGENCY THEORY).This approach differs markedly from the study of rule negotiation and informal organizational cultures (see ETHNOGRAPHY).