There are various ways to collective organization, with varying degrees of hierarchy, structure and rigor in its operation.
In this sense, there is talk of formal and informal organization to distinguish between those forms that adhere to what is established in a document (formal organization) and those that are more spontaneous and flexible (informal organization). For example: the government of a country, street vendors.
Both can occur in the same social or work context (in fact, they do), but only one can be imposed in the long run if it is intended to achieve a specific task.
All organizations, without exception, have a higher or lower degree of stiffness and attachment by its own rules of the game, so it could be said that “formal” and “informal” are just extreme categories of the same analytical perspective.
In fact, informal organization often arises from the interactions and social friction that the formal structure imposes on the members of a group.
Differences between formal and informal organization
The main difference between formal and informal organization has to do with the fact that the former is “official”, that is, supported by a theoretical model (often in writing: a charter, an organizational manual, etc.) based on plans, projections, behavioral models and other conceptual tools that constitute a hierarchy and allow the division of labor into specialized and differentiated units.
- Formal organizations. They tend to be more rigid, more solid and last over time, which is why they are more controlled organizations, less subject to the contingencies of the individuality of their members. In a formal structure the limits, powers and responsibilities are usually much better defined and are much more controllable and measurable than in an informal one. For example:
- Informal organizations. They lack documentary support or fixed written guidelines that last over time, since their operating rules tend to be more or less changing according to the will of their members. This allows them a lot of flexibility, but also limits their operation and makes them susceptible to entropy (clutter).
Examples of formal organization
- The bureaucratic body of a Ministry. Although at times it may not seem like it, the ministries and state departments are formally organized, since they obey a departmentalization and specification of work according to a division established in their internal regulations. This can be altered, of course, but not without generating a new document stating the changes implemented to the structure.
- The co-government of a University. The autonomous universities have co-government bodies elected by vote of the university community and whose operation is governed by constitutive documents that prioritize and structure the Rectorates and Vice-Rectorates and so on up to the simplest Student Center. Again, the operations of these instances could be changed, but not without first generating a new provision in writing and without going through certain decision instances.
- The management of a bank. The structuring of work in a bank obeys different, hierarchical and differentiated departments and coordination according to the principle of greater formality and control, something essential since it is an organization that will handle amounts of money.
- The government of a country. Regardless of their government regime and their specific legislative framework, the governments of the countries are examples of formal organizations: they are elected according to specific methods (some are not chosen, of course), they adhere to positions and hierarchies that go from the monopoly of violence by the State (the military forces), even the traffic laws that regulate the way we move in the city. All this is contained in laws, codes and the Constitution of the Republic.
- Any company. Companies are governed by constituent documents in which their hierarchy, their different departments and coordination appear, in short, their formal structure that coordinates the efforts of their different workers and employees, to carry out pending tasks and approach their mission as organization, whatever it is.
Examples of informal organization
- A group of coworkers. A group of colleagues who see each other regularly and go out after work to have a beer, is governed by an informal organization that allows the eventual absence of any of them, that horizontalizes and makes the deal more flexible and that does not require any commitment in writing or list of rules to be governed. A group member can choose to no longer attend or attend in another way without stipulating anywhere.
- A Sunday football team. It is common for many families or groups of friends to get together to play sports, for which they must organize themselves minimally into two opposing teams, and obey the rules of the game that are common to all; but that organization will not appear in any document nor will it be resistant to their wishes, so that if someone decides to change teams with another they can do it, or if they get tired of running and change places with the goalkeeper, there will be no problem.
- Street vendors. For one reason, street vendors are known as part of the informal economy: they do not enter the regulated and official apparatus of taxes and economic circuits, but rather sell their products itinerantly, for a while here and another there, setting the price without any type of agreement. and without paying taxes, rents or anything that can later be legally proven. That does not mean that they are not organized: they must buy the cheapest merchandise and sell it more expensive, they know where to locate, which products are in demand the most, etc.
- A reading club neighborhood. In any city there can be a reading club that involves neighbors willing to read, without this meriting much more than the encouragement to get together to talk about their books and a certain margin of organization in the meetings, so that not everyone speaks at the same time or talk about different books. But this organization is flexible, changeable and does not require any kind of formal commitment.
- A loving couple in the courtship stage. Contrary to marriage or cohabitation, courtship is a stage of organization of the couple that could be classified as informal, since it only appears in the wills of those involved and does not merit any legal commitment, such as a marriage certificate. It can be interrupted freely, despite everything, and yet it adheres to certain rules of mutual agreement between the couple, which are normally fidelity, respect, exclusivity, etc.