Using Your Agency
Organizations are necessary and important because they enable people to accomplish collectively what cannot be accomplished by individuals acting on their own. The maintenance of complex industrial societies is inconceivable without the existence of large-scale organizations, together with a great number of very small organizations.
H. E. ALDRICH (1979, P. 3)
As social workers, we will likely spend most of our professional lives practicing in human service organizations—governmental (public), nongovernmental nonprofit agencies, and proprietary organizations. These organizations profoundly affect our personal and professional well-being. Regardless of our talents and skills, organizational structure, culture, and management strongly influence how well and in what manner we are able to deliver services, that is, how well we are able to do the professional work for which we were trained. At the same time, our work organizations affect our self-image, our livelihoods, and our sense of accomplishment and worth as human beings. For these reasons, understanding how organizations operate is critical. We need organizational knowledge to create a personally and professionally more satisfying and capable work environment.
This chapter is written from the perspective of the direct service worker rather than the supervisor or manager. It deals with human service organizations in general first, and then with the formal and informal aspects of organizational life that workers should know about to understand the forces that impinge on them and the opportunities for intervention. We also remind the reader of the interorganizational context of organizational life because external economic, political, and institutional forces strongly affect intraorganizational behavior. Throughout the chapter, we try to regard workers as organizational actors intervening on their own behalf and on behalf of their clients. As a prelude to this chapter, we encourage the reader to review the material on systems theory, exchange theory, and interorganizational theory in Chapter 2.
Social workers practice in a very broad array of human service organizations (HSOs). Although these agencies vary in such characteristics as size, complexity, auspices, domain, and whether or not social work is the dominant pro