Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations

Subject: Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations
From: Damien Braniff <Damien_Braniff -at- PAC -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 10:31:07 +0100

I half agree with Andrew about Style Guides. The problem as I see it is that
people don't really see them for what they are - look at the title, they're
GUIDES, not hard set rules (or they shouldn't be). I can see why a company has
these "guides" in that they tend to give a consistency to a set of documents etc
and, hopefully, for day to day docs they make it a little easier on the writer
as they don't have to worry about layout etc., it's all there. However, not all
documents created fall neatly into the style guide format and that where you
really get problems - the joy (haven't we all been faced with it at some time or
another?) of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole! When they become
prescriptive they're more trouble than they're worth.

Re the organisation structures I hadn't really thought about it but, from my own
experience, must agree. I've worked for companies both large and small, formal
and informal and the "better" ones have tended to be those with a more relaxed
attitude to things. The rules are still there but they're flexible in most
cases and often seem to be written down (as in Staff Handbooks) to cover the
company in the eventuality that the system is abused. A couple of examples:

One large company I worked for (as a contractor) was quite good in many respects
- offered flexi time (clock in/out) for contractors but insisted every minute
was recorded (all this did was create work for the company admin) but in
others... One large job I worked on was a proposal which (with the usual last
minute changes) resulted in a 23 hour day to get it out on time. My comment (at
5:30am) was, as it went out the door, that I'm off to bed. Tech pubs manager
then asked was I having a days holiday then? I didn't reply but my immediate
boss said if they didn't sort it out he'd sign the sick note!

At my current company we also work flexi but it's informal and left to the staff
to keep track of their times (basically trusted!). Re work schedules, they
exist but you generally only get hassled monthly (for reports) and when
deadlines are involved. Basically you're managed but definitely not OVER
managed. Seems to work well - we're part of a much larger group and seem to be
spreading our management style to other groups. In addition, everyone has easy
access to the management (right up to MD) and it tends to be flatter than a lot
of other companies.

One thing that the informal structure is that it seems to me to engender company
loyalty which is often missing in more formal companies. In larger, more formal
companies I've worked for loyalty tended to be more "nuclear" - department or
whatever - with little or no company loyalty as such.

Damien Braniff
Technical Author
PAC International

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