A division is a level of convention organization between the chairman and the areas. Modern Worldcons require divisions — they are simply too large for a chairman to directly manage all of the area heads. By dividing the convention into 4-8 divisions, and appointing a division head to manage each of them, span of control issues are minimized.
Besides the line manager duties, a division head, along with the chairman and the other division heads also is responsible for collegially managing the entire convention. (The most common failure of division heads is to let their line responsibilities overwhelm their responsibility for the entire convention so that they act primarily as advocates for their division.
A division head for a Worldcon is in a difficult and immensely important position which doesn't have a parallel in regional conventions no matter how large — though some have a layer called "division heads," they are now DHs in the Worldcon sense. The DH is at once the line manager in charge of a group of areas while simultaneously, along with the other DHs and the officers of the convention, being responsible for building the convention. This split responsibility — on the one hand responsible for fairly specific deliverables, yet on the other hand, taking responsibility for the good of the con as a whole — is tricky to manage and a skill which few have an opportunity to develop elsewhere in fandom.
Divisions are usually organized functionally — a Services Division, an Exhibits Division, a Facilities Division, etc. — but can also be organized according to the strengths of the person who will be the division head. For example, at Noreascon Three, one of the divisions was the WSFS and Art Show Division, which was created to cater to the strengths of George Flynn who headed it.
Creating divisions that are a group of functionally related areas makes sense because locating areas which need to communicate more frequently in the same division may simplify communications. The argument has been seriously made, however, that communications is such an important issue in running Worldcons, and that the communication between the more closely-related areas is such a small part of the overall communication required, that it would be better to simply number the divisions 1 through 8 and assign areas randomly. While this would somewhat impede some kinds of communication, it would force communications issues to the surface and might well make for a better run Worldcon in spite of that. No one has yet had the guts to give this a try.
Smaller conventions rarely require a division structure, and when they have it is is more often because of politics (having division heads means more titles to hand out) or a love of organizational complexity, than of any real need.
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