Department- Meaning, Types, Features, and Bases


Organizations can be classified into three main types i.e. Department, Public Corporation, and Regulatory Commission. Out of these, the place of primacy belongs to the Department because it is the most commonly used and known form of organization. In fact, Departments are the most important and primary units of the administrative system of a country. Generally, these are very big organizational units carrying out the administrative work of the government. They work directly and immediately under the control of the Chief Executive. The governmental administration runs through a network of departments and they constitute the primary and major units of the administration of the country. They execute policies, provide services to the people and regulate the conduct of individuals.

In every country of the world, whether developed or developing the major work of the government is done through departments. It is one of the oldest mechanisms of doing the work of the government. In ancient times, kings and emperors used to divide their work into departments and entrust each department to different officials i.e. the ‘Senapati’ used to be in charge of the defense, the ‘Faujdar’ in-charge of the police, and the ‘Khazanchi’, the in-charge of the Treasury.

In contemporary times also the work of the government is being carried out by departments. Each department is headed by a member of the political executive, with a secretary at the top of the department i.e., administrative hierarchy. With the increased and still increasing work of the government, the governments are becoming more in number, their work is increasing, and they are assuming more and more importance as units of administration.

Department Meaning:

The literal meaning of the word ‘Department’ is “a part” or “a portion of a larger whole”. In administration, the whole work of government is divided into different parts popularly refer to as Departments. The administration of a State is carried out through Departments. For example, the Department of Education looks after the educational needs and the educational system of the state. The Department of Defense stands entrusted with the defense of the country against any aggression or war. The Home Department looks after the issues and needs of internal security and law and order.

In France, the territorial divisions of the country are known as Departments. But in public administration, Departments are the biggest blocks or compartments into which the administrative system as a whole is divided just under the Chief Executive. In India and the United Kingdom, government administrations have been organized on departmental patterns. Each department has a political head i.e., a minister, and a secretary at the top of the administrative hierarchy. The minister, as head, is responsible before the Parliament for all the activities of his department, which are really performed by the civil servants working in his department.

Types of Department:

Features of the Department:

Bases of Departments:

Departments are the largest, oldest, and most important units of administration, through which most of the work of administration is carried out. The administration has to carry out certain functions through several processes for providing services and delivering goods to the people living in all parts of the country.

In the organization of a department, a decision has to be taken as to whether it is to be organized on the basis of a function or process or some other one. The scholar suggests several different bases for organizing departments. Each basis has its advantages as well as disadvantage. More or less, each basis is used in actual practice.

Since 2350 years ago, Aristotle suggested two bases for the organization of Departments:

  • Dividing the work according to persons or classes.
  • Dividing the work according to the services to be rendered.

Since the times of Aristotle, several scholars have been suggesting various bases for the organization of departments. Dimock and Dimock divide these bases into three parts:

  • Territory bases.
  • Clientele bases.
  • Functional bases.

John Millet describes the following four bases for the organization of departments:

  • Function or Purpose.
  • Process or Profession.
  • Clientele or Community.
  • Area or Place.

According to Luther Gulick, “In modern times we can observe that there are four principal bases of the formation of departments.  He calls it the “4-P” formula i.e., Purpose, Process, Persons, and Place.” While examining the issue of the basis for departmental organization, the Haldane Committee (1918), in its report observed, “There appear to be only two alternatives, which may be highly desirable:

  • distribution according to persons or classes to be dealt with.
  • distribution according to the services to be performed.

On the basis of a review of the organizational basis of the various departments working in various countries of the world, we can say that the following four main bases can be identified for organizing the departments:

Evaluation of these Four Bases:

An appraisal of all these four bases shows that none of these bases is absolutely the best. Each has its merit and demerits. The following observations can be made:

(1) No universally accepted basis of Departmental Organization- No single basis, in fact, can be made the criteria for dividing the work of the administration. So it is proper to choose any one of the basis under the guidance of the circumstances of each case and the objectives aimed at.

(2) The Four bases are not altogether different, they overlap each other- All bases function, process, clientele, location, or area-overlap with each other. They are related. What appears to be functional from one point of view may look like a process, clientele, or area from another point of view. As a matter of fact, every function employs some processes and has relevance in the context of some people inhabiting a particular place. For example, it is difficult to say whether the Department of Agriculture is based on a functional or clientele basis. Its function is to develop agriculture as well as to serve the interests and needs of the agriculturists.

(3) No department can be totally based on any single basis- Finally, it is to be noted that no department is established or can be created from top to bottom on a single basis. At the department level, we may start with one basis, say function; as we go to the lower sections, we may have to employ other bases of clientele, processes, or areas.


We can conclude this study of the principles or bases of departmental organization by saying that different departments are organized on the basis of different principles according to the requirements of time and situation, there is no universally applicable basis of departmental organization. Also, no department is formed from top to bottom. On a single basis, the 4 bases function process cliently and location overlap each other.

In fact, departments are not formed on any one single principle. All four principles are used in the formation of departments. Keeping in view, administrative convenience, and socio-economic, and political conditions, departments are established by making use of all four principles of departmentalization. If the objective is public service, the functional basis is the best. If the economy of the technical staff is the primary objective, the process would be the best choice. If the aim is to help a certain class of people, the choice should be for the clientele basis. If certain regions or area is affected by special problems, then the geographical basis should be adopted, No, single basis is the best. “The key lies in this situation.”

All four bases are complementary to each other and all these are used in all the countries for the formation of various departments. In deciding which department is to be organized on which basis, the merits and demerits of the basis should be related to the needs and goals of the environment or the society or group for which the department is to work.

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