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What is a Functional Organization?

Shaun Kerry, M.D.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

"All the world's a stage, and the men and women merely players."
-- As You Like It (II, vii, 139-143)

Put simply, functionality is the ability to perform a job smoothly, and correctly.  For example, when someone says, "My car doesnít function anymore," they may mean that their car gets bad gas mileage, takes too much effort to maintain, and generally doesn't perform efficiently.

First, letís take a look at some functional organizations.  Take movie-making, for example.  The key person is the casting director.  The concept of casting extends not only to the actors, but also to choosing the array of technical and support people.  These decisions are critical to the success of the film.  Everyone has a unique and special personality.  It is the job of the casting director and producer to coordinate these personalities in such a fashion that everyone can function together.  Such decisions can make or break the movie.

The same principles apply in any successful business organization.  The management knows what personality characteristics are right for a given position.  From a wide variety of applicants, they select the person best suited for the job; the person who most exhibits the desired characteristics. Imagine companies like Yahoo!, Sony, General Mills, or Toyota.  They must be making good hiring decisions, and functioning with a minimum of red tape.

In government, however, we see the opposite: dysfunctionality.  We witness terrible, costly decisions being made.  Consider the Vietnam War, which lasted over ten years, cost billions of dollars, destroyed thousands of lives, and accomplished nothing.  We see votes cast along party lines, with people voting according to their political party rather than using their individual judgment. This leads to gridlock, leaving our political system like cars stalled in traffic.

If an organization is extremely dysfunctional, then there is something in its core structure that is improperly designed.  Our challenge is to find that root cause and fix it.  When the underlying flaws are corrected, government, schools, and health-care will become highly functional organizations.

Our government is based on the principle that it is of the people, by the people, and for the people. This essentially means that we are in charge.  And if our government is going to change, it is our responsibility to change it.  We will have to take on the job of the casting director.  To do our job effectively, we will need to get rid of the red tape and the bureaucracy.

To do our job effectively, we will need the ability to choose from a universe of people to fill these crucial roles.