GROUP STRUCTURE - SPECIALISTS AND GENERALISTS

Diploma

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to discuss and explore the subject of organizing generalists and specialists. 

The purpose of this thesis is to explore and discuss different alternatives on organizational grouping from a generalists and specialists perspective. It will explore theories around organizational design, different organizational structures and give insight to the specialist and generalist function that can be found in most types of organizations. 

The aim is to be able to present different aspects of organizing generalists and specialists and to be able to answer the problem question: Is there a best organizational structure for specialist and generalist groups?

The study is a qualitative study and the process of induction will be used. The epistemological standpoint is interprevistic and the ontological is more towards constructionism. The methods used are 1) the collection of and qualitative analysis of texts and documents and 2) qualitative semi-structured interviewing. The analysis is based on grounded theory method.

The result and conclusions of the study is that generalists most likely do fit better in organizational forms such as simple structure, adhocracy and network organizations. Specialists tend to prefer bureaucracy or functional/unitary organizations.


Theoretical problem

An organization has to be built up with people in it. When setting up a group of people that will be organized together, the following is needed: task analysis, people & skills and processes & procedures (Thompson 2008). The people in a group need to have technical or functional skills, task-management skills and interpersonal skills. It is not just for a group to perform their technical skills; normally the actions must be integrated and communicated with others outside and into the rest of the organization. All these factors are needed for a work group with a common goal according to Thompson (2008) s 203.

There is also an aspect of that all different people have different predisposition or tendency to work in different ways and the ability to handle different tasks and nature of tasks (Davis & Pharro, 2003). This view was already described by Taylor in the beginning of 20:th century when he stated that it was most beneficial to match men to jobs according to their capacity (Locke 1982)

Looking into this issue regarding specialists and generalists, one finds that Adam Smith was one of the first to write about specialization. He was the first that divided work into smaller pieces and made workmen only a part of a refinement of a product and not the producer of the whole product itself. The output could be increased since specialized at one or at few tasks, and transport and set-up time is reduced (Sandkull & Johansson, 1996). Many of the classic organizational theorists favour specialization over generalisation. Taylor is definitely one of them according to Locke (1982). Taylor emphasized maximum specialization not only for workers, but also for other functions such as managers. To make all these divided parts fit together as a whole, there are needed specialists to co-ordinate and plan all the work.

The following definitions of generalists and specialists can be found in literature:

      A generalist is one person that has to make decisions, solve problems and coordinate efforts of others to be able to fulfill the tasks assigned (Golembiewski, 1965).

      Persons knowing a lot of few things are specialists and persons knowing little about many things are called a generalist. The depth and breadth perspective can be used, generalists has breadth in their knowledge and specialists depth. (Ferreira & Sah, 2010)

      Persons that have the relative advantage of one task are called a specialist, and a person that is equally able to perform several tasks is called a generalist (Prasad, 2009).

Another way to view specialization is to give a highly trained specialists a rather comprehensive amount of tasks to be solved meaning a professional is responsible for the operation (Hanks & Chandler, 1994).

The benefits of having specialists are that the organization can handle highly complex tasks and that the overall efficiency will increase. Organization task diversity will affect the need of specialization, and the increase and expansion of tasks has proven to be the driver for specialization increase (Hanks & Chandler, 1994).

Purpose

Putting the research problem into a wider perspective the motivation of this thesis evolves.

The purpose of this thesis is to explore and discuss different alternatives on organizational grouping from a generalists and specialists perspective. 

To fullfil the purpose and to be able to answer the problem question, I believe there is a need to look into the different organization structures and examine where to find the generalists and specialists in the theoretical models of organization structures that exists. It is interesting to know how and why organizational structure looks like it does today and how it has evolved historically and how the theoreticians have handled specialists and generalists functions. To understand this, the study of the design parameters of an organization gives a good background.

One parameter to understand how organizations are functioning is to view upon the subject of work division, or division of labour, to investigate what theories exists regarding the job split between generalists and specialists. Also the study will touch on the subject on how generalists and specialists work together, because this also influences the overall organizational structure.

I will explore some of the definitions there are regarding specialists and generalists, what the respective characteristics are and how they are affected by different organizational structures. This is to bring light to the understanding how they do or do not fit into the organization respectively. 

As showed in the empirical study of this thesis, different organization structures could facilitate or obstruct the work of specialists or generalists. Therefore it is crucial to understand different structures and what the consequences could be when grouping the respective function in different ways.

This study will be of value to practitioners involved in organizational design since the thesis brings light into the discussion around how to practically group specialists and generalists. It is also interesting for persons working in the respective function of being a specialist or generalist because I believe knowledge can help one to understand why things happen and why it is like it is. Also, the benefit of this thesis is to give insight to what can be changed to a more effective way of working for generalists and specialists.

For theorists the thesis gives input to the discussion around benefits and weaknesses of different organization types but here it is done in the perspective from a specialist and a generalist view.

The interviews conducted in this study can also give some understanding about the nature of generalists and specialists and also guidance to answer the research problem.