Formal Organizations: Examples and Definition (Sociology)

formal organization examples and definition

A formal organization is a structured group of people that has a defined set of rules, roles, and responsibilities for achieving specific goals or objectives.

Formal organizations are characterized by a clear hierarchy of authority, division of labor, and formal communication channels.  They can take many different forms, including businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions.

Examples of formal organizations include government agencies, courts, banks, schools, corporations, and professional associations.

Three main types of formal organizations include: utilitarian, coercive, and normative organizations (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

Formal Organization Sociological Definition

Formal organizations refer to institutions, rules, and procedures that are established by governments, laws, or other recognized authorities to regulate social, economic, and political interactions in a society.

Max Weber defined formal organizations as highly structured organizations that are characterized by a

“…clear division of labor, a hierarchy of authority, and a system of rules and regulations” (1947).

These organizations are generally accountable to a higher authority, such as the government or the law (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

Formal organizations play an important role in shaping the behavior of individuals and groups in society. They provide a framework for social interactions, and help to ensure that individuals and groups are held accountable for their actions.

They also provide a means of resolving disputes and conflicts, and can promote the development of social and economic systems.

Types of Formal Organizations

Etzioni (1965; 1975) identified three types of formal organizations: coercive, utilitarian, and normative.

Etzioni’s typology of formal organizations helps to provide a framework for understanding the different types of organizations that exist in society and the different ways in which they function.

It highlights the diverse motivations and goals of formal organizations, and the ways in which they can shape social relations and influence the wider community.

1. Utilitarian Organizations

Utilitarian organizations are formal organizations that are established to pursue specific goals or objectives that serve the common good or the public interest.

They are characterized by their voluntary membership and a focus on providing services to the community (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

Utilitarian organizations can take many different forms, including non-profits, charities, and community service organizations.

They are typically run by volunteers or paid staff and may rely on donations, grants, or other sources of funding to support their operations.

Utilitarian organizations are focused on providing services that benefit society as a whole, such as promoting education, providing healthcare, or addressing social and environmental issues.

2. Coercive Organizations

Coercive organizations are formal organizations that use force or the threat of force to control their members and achieve their goals.

They are characterized by a lack of voluntary membership and a hierarchical power structure.

Coercive organizations can take many different forms, including prisons, military organizations, and some religious cults. They rely on strict rules and regulations to maintain order and discipline among their members, and often use punishments, such as imprisonment or physical violence, to enforce compliance.

Coercive organizations are focused on achieving their goals through the exercise of power and control over their members, rather than through voluntary cooperation. They may be motivated by a desire for profit, political power, or ideological control (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

3. Normative Organizations

Normative organizations are formal organizations that are based on shared values and beliefs.

They are characterized by their voluntary membership and a focus on promoting a common cause or mission.

Normative organizations can take many different forms, including advocacy groups, professional associations, and religious organizations.

They rely on a shared sense of purpose to motivate their members and often work to promote social change or advance specific goals (Etzioni, 1965; 1975).

Normative organizations are often seen as positive forces in society, as they work to promote social change and advance important causes. They can provide a sense of community and purpose for their members, and often rely on volunteers and donations.

10 Formal Organization Examples

  1. The United Nations: The United Nations is a formal international organization that was established to promote international cooperation, peace, and security (United Nations, n.d.).
  2. The World Health Organization: The World Health Organization is a formal specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for promoting health and preventing diseases around the world.
  3. The International Monetary Fund: The International Monetary Fund is a formal international organization that was established to promote international monetary cooperation and exchange rate stability.
  4. Apple Inc.: Apple Inc. is a formal corporation that was established in 1976 to design and manufacture consumer electronics, computer hardware, and software (Linzmayer, 2004).
  5. The American Medical Association: The American Medical Association is a formal professional organization that was established to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.
  6. The Federal Bureau of Investigation: The Federal Bureau of Investigation is a formal government agency that is responsible for investigating and enforcing federal laws and protecting the United States from terrorism and foreign intelligence threats (FBI, n.d.).
  7. The International Olympic Committee: The International Olympic Committee is a formal international organization that is responsible for organizing the modern Olympic Games (IOC, n.d.).
  8. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is a formal government agency that is responsible for the United States’ civilian space program and aeronautics research (NASA, n.d.).
  9. The Red Cross: The Red Cross is a formal non-profit organization that was established to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief around the world (Red Cross, n.d.).
  10. The International Association of Athletics Federations: The International Association of Athletics Federations is a formal international organization that is responsible for governing and promoting athletics around the world (IAAF, n.d.).

Case Studies

1. The Modern University as a Formal Organization

A university is a formal organization that is established to provide higher education to students.

Universities are typically structured with a board of directors who oversee the management of the university, faculty who provide the instruction, and support staff who provide administrative and support services.

Universities are known for their commitment to research and innovation, providing students with access to cutting-edge technology and knowledge.

They are often structured into schools or faculties, each of which focuses on a particular area of study, such as arts and humanities, science and technology, business and economics, and social sciences.

2. Non-Profit Organizations

Non-profit organizations are formal organizations that are established for the purpose of serving a specific social or environmental cause.

These organizations are often structured as a board of directors who oversee the organization, staff who carry out the work, and volunteers who contribute their time and expertise.

They rely on a variety of funding sources, such as donations, grants, and fundraising events, to support their programs and services.

Many non-profits also partner with businesses, government agencies, and other organizations to achieve their goals. Examples of non-profit organizations include GreenPeace, PETA and Amnesty International.

3. Government Organizations

Government organizations are formal organizations that are established by the government to provide a wide range of public services and to regulate various aspects of society.

They operate at local, state, and national levels and are responsible for implementing laws, policies, and regulations that are designed to serve the public interest.

Government organizations are often structured hierarchically, with different levels of management and staff.

They typically have a board of directors or governing body that oversees the organization and sets policy, and staff who carry out the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Government organizations may also have specialized divisions or departments to address specific functions, such as health, education, transportation, or public safety.

4. Corporations in Late Capitalism

Corporations are formal organizations that are established to engage in business activities.

They are owned by shareholders, who have invested in the corporation and have a right to share in its profits.

Corporations are usually structured with a board of directors who oversee the management of the company. There are also employees who carry out the day-to-day operations of the business.

Corporations are typically established to make a profit. They may operate in various industries, such as finance, technology, manufacturing, or retail.

They may be structured as publicly traded or privately held, and they can vary in size from small businesses to multinational companies.

5. Hospitals

Hospitals are formal organizations that are established to provide medical care and treatment to patients who are sick or injured.

They can be private or public, and they vary in size and scope, from small community hospitals to large academic medical centers.

Hospitals are typically structured into various departments, such as emergency services, intensive care units, surgical units, diagnostic imaging, and laboratory services.

They employ a variety of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, therapists, and support staff.

Hospitals play a crucial role in promoting public health and well-being, and they are often at the forefront of medical research and innovation. 

Conclusion

Institutions, rules, and procedures established by recognized social authorities are referred to as formal organizations. These organizations are structured formally and regulated through rules, laws, and procedures.

Examples of formal organizations include non-profit organizations, corporations, hospitals and government agencies. Three main types of formal organizations include utilitarian, coercive, and normative organizations, categorized according to their goals and motivations.

Overall, formal institutions are an essential component of modern society, as they provide a framework for social, economic, and political interactions that is necessary for the proper functioning of a complex society.

References

Etzioni, A. (1965). Dual leadership in complex organizations. American sociological review, 688-698.

Etzioni, A. (1975). Comparative analysis of complex organizations. Simon and Schuster.

FBI. (n.d.). What is the FBI? — FBI. FBI. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.fbi.gov/about/faqs/what-is-the-fbi

IAAF. (n.d.). About World Athletics. World Athletics. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.worldathletics.org/about-iaaf

IOC. (n.d.). IOC – International Olympic Committee. Olympics. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://olympics.com/ioc

Linzmayer, O. W. (2004). Apple confidential 2.0: The definitive history of the world’s most colorful company. No Starch Press.

NASA. (n.d.). About NASA. NASA. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.nasa.gov/about/index.html

Red Cross. (n.d.). American Red Cross | Help Those Affected by Disasters. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.redcross.org/

United Nations. (n.d.). UN System | United Nations. the United Nations. Retrieved February 18, 2023, from https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-system

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Sanam Vaghefi (BSc, MA) is a Sociologist, educator and PhD Candidate. She has several years of experience at the University of Victoria as a teaching assistant and instructor. Her research on sociology of migration and mental health has won essay awards from the Canadian Sociological Association and the IRCC. Currently, she is am focused on supporting students online under her academic coaching and tutoring business Lingua Academic Coaching OU.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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