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What Makes Each Organization Unique


Much of the content of this topic came from this book: Consulting and Organization Development - Book Cover

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

Sections of This Article Include

Factors That Make Each Organization Unique

So Are Nonprofits and For-Profits Really Very Different?


Factors That Determine an Organization's Uniqueness

The following list includes some major considerations for you to address when attempting to identify the unique aspects of an organization. The factors are all highly related to, and influenced by, each other.

Culture of the Organization

You work differently with an organization, depending on the organization’s culture. An organization’s culture is similar to its overall “personality.” For example, some organizations operate in a highly “business-like” fashion with extensive formality of rules. Other organizations pride themselves on operating in a highly informal, relaxed fashion.

Style of the Top Leadership

There is a variety of leadership styles, ranging from highly involved to detached. Autocratic leadership means decisions are made from the top down, and often based on the personality of the top leaders. In contrast, participative leaders aim to involve as many people in decisions as is practical and decisions are often made by consensus.

Life Cycle of the Organization

The particular life cycle of an organization can make a big difference in how change should be carried out because organizations often operate differently during different life cycle stages. For example, the nature of their planning, policies and procedures can change substantially between stages.

Size of the Organization

The larger the organization, the sometimes more complex the nature of its issues and the more complex the actions needed to address those issues. Size is in terms of the number of divisions, products and services, and personnel because those features are most often associated with specific organizational issues.

Strategies and Structures of the Organization

In this context, strategies refer to the overall approaches used by the organization to effectively meet the needs of its stakeholders. Those approaches include how the organization identifies the needs and then works to meet them. The structures are the result of the organization’s overall strategies and include, for example, organizational design, policies, plans, procedures and roles.

Rate of Change in the External Environment

Certain types of organizations are in the midst of tremendous change, for example, technologies, health care and transportation. Often, the faster the rate of change in the external environment, the more rapid are the decisions and actions in the internal environment.

So Are Nonprofits and For-Profits Really Very Different?

Notice that none of the above factors is directly in regard to the nature of the products and services provided by the organization. There is often a misunderstanding that products and services make a big difference. Usually, they do not.

For example, many people assert that there is a big difference between nonprofits and for-profits. However, they often are comparing small, start-up nonprofits in their first life cycle with large, established for-profits in a mature life cycle. Instead, small nonprofits are much more like small for-profits than large nonprofits. Similarly, large nonprofits are much more like large for-profits than small nonprofits.

For example, notice the model of life cycles at https://managementhelp.org/organizations/life-cycles.htm#example . Then think about small nonprofits and for-profits and about how similar their features often are during the start-up phase.

Others assert that nonprofits are different because they are much more diverse. However, for-profits are increasingly diverse, as well, as the work force becomes increasingly diverse.

Others assert that nonprofits are unique in that they do fundraising. However, for-profits are constantly focused on potential sources of funding and many regularly borrow money from different sources, especially if it ultimately would be profitable to do so.

Others assert that nonprofits are unique because they have volunteer and (usually) unpaid Board members. However, the legal requirements and best practices between nonprofit and for-profit corporations are very similar in the operations of the Boards of Directors.

This Article is in a Series About Understanding Organizational Structures

This article is the second in the series which includes:

1. What is an Organization?
2. What Makes Each Organization Unique
3. How They're the Same: They're Systems
4. Basic Overview of Life Cycles in Organizations
5. Basic Overview of Organizational Culture
6. Legal Forms and Traditional Structures of Organizations
7. Driving Forces and a New Organizational Paradigm
8. Emerging Nature and New Organizational Structures
9. Basic Guidelines for Organizational Design
10. Wrap Up: Grasping the Big Picture in Organizations (video)


Learn More in the Library's Blogs Related to Organizations

In addition to the information on this current page, see the following blogs which have posts related to organizations. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.

Library's Consulting and Organizational Development Blog
Library's Leadership Blog
Library's Nonprofit Capacity Building Blog


For the Category of Organizational Development:

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