What are the features of bureaucracy?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are many possible ways to describe the features of a bureaucracy.  I will use a famous enumeration of these features put forward by Max Weber.  I will examine five features of bureaucracy that Weber identifies.

The first aspect of bureaucracy is a division of labor.  In a bureaucratic system, there have to be different people who do different jobs.  If you have a loose group of (for example) three lawyers who are together in an office simply to share rent and the cost of a receptionist, there is no bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy only exists if there are different people doing specific different jobs.

The second aspect is a hierarchy of authority.  A true bureaucracy needs to have a chain of command.  There must be set lines of authority where each person in the bureaucracy knows who they report to and whose commands they must obey.

Third, there are written rules and regulations.  A bureaucracy is run on the basis of formal rules.  Bureaucracies are not run on the whims of their employees.  A manager does not get to simply make up the rules on a day-to-day basis.  Instead, there are written rules so that everyone knows what is required of them.

Fourth, a bureaucracy is impersonal.  What that means is that it does not take into account personalities or the identity of people involved in any particular issue.  If, for example, you want to take vacation, you get exactly the number of days that the rules say you get, regardless of whether you are the boss’s nephew.  If you violate rules, you incur the consequences, again regardless of your personal connections to anyone. 

Finally, employment in a bureaucracy is based on competence and qualification.  It is sometimes said that life is about “who you know, not what you know.”  In a bureaucracy, this should not be the case.  You get hired or promoted based on whether you are qualified for a given job, not based on whether you have personal connections.

In these ways, bureaucracies are very rationalized, formalized systems for getting work done.

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sid-sarfraz | Student, Graduate | (Level 2) Salutatorian

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 The term ‘bureaucracy’ has been widely used with invidious connotations directed at government and business.

Bureaucracy is an administrative system designed to accomplish large-scale administrative tasks by systematically coordinating the work of many individuals. Weber has observed three types of power in organisations: traditional, charismatic and rational-legal or bureaucratic. He has emphasised that bureaucratic type of power is the ideal one.

Features (Characteristics) Of Weber’s Bureaucracy:

Weber has given a number of features of bureaucracy. Accordingly, following features suggest the characteristics of bureaucratic organisations.

1. Administrative Class:

Bureaucratic organisations generally have administrative class responsible for maintaining coordinative activities of the members.

Main features of his class are as follows:

(i) People are paid and are whole time employees,

(ii) They receive salary and other perquisites normally based on their positions,

(iii) Their tenure in the organisation is determined by the rules and regulations of the organisation,

(iv) They do not have any proprietary interest in the organisation,

(v) They are selected for the purpose of employment based on their competence.

2. Hierarchy:

The basic feature of bureaucratic organisation is that there is hierarchy of positions in the organisation. Hierarchy is a system of ranking various positions in descending scale from top to bottom of the organisation. In bureaucratic organisation, offices also follow the principle of hierarchy that is each lower office is subject to control and supervision by higher office.

Thus, no office is left uncontrolled in the organisation. This is the fundamental concept of hierarchy in bureaucratic organisation. This hierarchy serves as lines of communication and delegation of authority. It implies that communication coming down or going up must pass through each position.

Similarly, a subordinate will get authority from his immediate superior. However, this hierarchy is net unitary but sub-pyramids of officials within the large organisation corresponding etc. functional divisions exist.

Thus, there are offices with the same amount of authority but with different kinds of functions operating in different areas of competence. For example, the Government organisations, we can observe separate offices looking after particular functions. This happens in business organisations too.

3. Division of Work:

Work of the organisation is divided on the basis of specialisation to take the advantages of division of labour. Each office in the bureaucratic organisation has specific sphere of competence.

This involves:

(i) a sphere of obligations to perform functions which has been marked off as part of a systematic division of labour;

(ii) the provision of the incumbent with necessary authority to carry out these functions; and

(iii) the necessary means of compulsion are clearly defined and their use is subject to definite conditions.

Thus, division of labour try to ensure that each office has a clearly-defined area of competence within the organisation and each official knows the areas in which he operates and the areas in which he must abstain from action so that he does not overstep the boundary between his role and those of others. Further, division of labour also tries to ensure that no work is left uncovered.

4. Official Rules:

A basic and most emphasised feature of bureaucratic organisation is that administrative process is continuous and governed by official rules. Bureaucratic organisation is the antithesis of ad hoc, temporary, and temporary and unstable relations. A rational approach to organisation calls for a system of maintaining rules to ensure twin requirements of uniformity and coordination of efforts by individual members in the organisation.

These rules are more or less stable and more or less exhaustive. When there is no rule on any aspect of organisational operation, the matter is referr

Sources:

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