What is a bureaucracy and how it works, with examples (2023)

What is a bureaucracy?

The term bureaucracy refers to a complex organization with multi-layered systems and processes. The systems and processes put in place effectively slow down decision-making. They are designed to maintain consistency and control within the organization.

A bureaucracy describes the methods commonly established in governments and large organizations, such asPursue. A bureaucracy plays a central role in administering the rules and regulations of the company.

The central theses

  • The word bureaucracy implies a complex structure with multiple levels and procedures.
  • The systems set up under a bureaucracy slow down decision-making.
  • Bureaucracies can make systems formal and rigid, which is needed when compliance with security procedures is critical.
  • The term bureaucracy is often criticized and viewed negatively because it implies that procedures are more important than efficiency.
  • The Glass-Steagall Act is a good example of effective bureaucracy in the United States.

How a bureaucracy works

The bureaucratic process is open to criticism and stands for redundancy, arbitrariness and inefficiency. People often use terms like bureaucrat, bureaucracy, and bureaucracy in a negative context.For example, when you refer to someone as a bureaucrat, it means they are a government official, while the term bureaucratic implies that procedures are more important than efficiency. A common use of the word bureaucracy is the ability to make impossibilities a reality.

But there is a more balanced way of looking at a bureaucracy. Structurally, it results from the endeavor to lead organizations through closed systems. These systems are meant to be formal and rigid in order to maintain order. Perhaps the most identifiable characteristic of a bureaucracy is its use ofhierarchicalProcedures to simplify or replace autonomous decisions.

(Video) Bureaucracy Basics: Crash Course Government and Politics #15

A bureaucrat makes implicit assumptions about an organization and how it works. One assumption is that the company cannot rely on an open operating system that is either too complex or too insecure to survive. Instead, a closed and rationally verified system should be implemented and followed.

Procedural correctness is of paramount importance in a bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy vs. Governance vs. Administration

Bureaucracy is not just bureaucracyguideor administration. Some administrative structures are not bureaucratic and many bureaucracies are not part of administrative structures. So what's the difference? The distinction lies in the goals of each system.

Bureaucracies ensure procedural correctness regardless of the circumstances or goals. Governance includes processes, procedures and systems implemented by an organization to:

  • make decisions
  • Assign people to make these decisions
  • grant supervision
  • Collect data and report performance results

An administration, on the other hand, directs organizational resources towards an objective goal such as making a profit or administering a service.

(Video) bureaucracy short

In modern industrial societies, dual bureaucracies often exist between private companies and government regulators. Whenever there is a regulatory bureaucracy on which rules must be imposedBusinessactivity thatprivate companycan create a bureaucracy to avoid violating such regulations.

Bureaucracies are all around us. For example, an oil company may set up a bureaucracy to force its employees to perform security clearances when they work on an oil rig.

criticism of a bureaucracy

Bureaucratic structures tend to be backward-looking, identifying procedures that have worked well in the past. This backwards perspective creates conflict with entrepreneurs and innovators who prefer itforesightedConcepts and try to show ways how processes could be improved.

For example agile processes that achieve improvements through an iterative process characterized by self-organization and accountability. Rigid bureaucracy is dismantled over timeoperational efficiency, especially when compared to torival organizations without large bureaucracies. Efficiency losses are most pronounced where bureaucracy is also used to shield established power structures from competition.

Classic bureaucratic rigidity andprotectionismare widely used in the US government. For example, it is difficult to fire underperformers as a lengthy termination process has been put in place.

(Video) Bureaucracy In Organizations

Examples of bureaucracy

Examples of bureaucracy are all around us. Workplaces, schools, governments all typically have hierarchical structures with individuals filling positions based on ability or merit (real or perceived).

in oneHarvard Business ReviewArticle asked James L. Heskett whether bureaucracy is a good thing in government or in private enterprise. The article describes bureaucracies as entities focused on decision-making rights rather than decision-making, noting that "they were not created to reason or think". According to comments from contributors to the article, far too often bureaucracies are about themselves and about expanding the power and influence of the people who run them.

Some of the article's contributors, who have worked in government agencies, defend the role of bureaucracy, but recognize that reforming bureaucracy could give decision-makers greater autonomy. Another commenter noted that the US government bureaucracy in creating theGlass-Steagall Actof 1933, which laid down the regulations on the separation of trade and commerceInvestment Banking, and the social programs created by thenew business. The New Deal was an initiative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, also in 1933, with many social programs helping the United States recover from the crisisGreat Depression.

Origins of Bureaucracy

The concept of bureaucracy is quite old, dating back to the Han Dynasty in China.But the modern take on the idea dates back to 18th-century France.

The term bureaucracy is a mixed word whose roots go back to French and Greek. It is composed of the French wordOffice, meaning desk or office, and the Greek termKrain, meaning "to rule".Using these two words together roughly means governing through or from a desk or office. The word was first used officially in France after the French Revolution. From there, the word and concept spread to the rest of the world.

The 19th-century German sociologist Max Weber was one of the first scholars to use the term and to expand its influence. He described the notion of bureaucracy in a positive (idealized) sense, considering the ideal bureaucracy to be efficient and rational. He believed that the bureaucracy clearly defined the roles of the people involved and helped narrow the focus of administrative goals. For Weber, bureaucracy was key to capitalism because it allowed organizations to survive even as individuals came and went.

What is a bureaucrat?

The term bureaucrat refers to someone who is a member of a bureaucracy. This may refer to someone who is a government official or someone in a position of power, such as a chairman or board member of a company or other organization.

(Video) What is Bureaucracy?

What's good about a bureaucracy?

Bureaucracies can help organizations run smoothly and efficiently. This enables large organizations to streamline processes and bring order to systems and procedures. Management becomes easier and processes become less chaotic. Bureaucracies tend to involve a division of labor with clearly defined roles.They also ensure that everyone is treated equally and fairly, meaning there is no bias towards an entity. For example, the government requires everyone to fill out the same (often cumbersome) paperwork for benefits like student loans.

What's wrong with a bureaucracy?

Bureaucracies are often looked down upon because people see them as emphasizing procedure over efficiency. Many people feel that rules and paperwork can pile up under bureaucracy. This is often referred to as the bureaucracy that people and businesses must overcome in order to achieve specific goals such as starting a business. Rules and regulations can often be difficult to understand and even favor some people over others, such as the rich.

What are the most common characteristics of a bureaucracy?

The most common features of a bureaucracy include hierarchy, rules and regulations, and specialization.The hierarchy establishes scales of power—those with the most power are at the top, while those with the least power are at the bottom. Rules and regulations are usually formal and specify how processes and functions are to be performed. Specialization involves the use of training so that employees can properly do their jobs under the structure.

(Video) Max Weber Bureaucracy

The final result

Bureaucracies are all around us, from the corporations we work for to the governments that run the countries of our world. They are in place to ensure things are done efficiently and by the book – that is, people are following the rules, whether it's conducting health and safety checks at work, obtaining a permit for a construction project, or gaining access to authorities advantages.

Much as they are supposed to help keep everyone on track, bureaucracies are often criticized for being cumbersome and emphasizing procedures and policies rather than efficiency. Regardless of how you feel about them - positive or negative - bureaucracies are not going away. In fact, they are part of the structure of many organizations.


1. Bureaucratic Management Theory Explained (Max Weber)
2. What is bureaucracy In Hindi Urdu | Meaning of Bureaucracy | Basic Concept
(Syed Ismaeel Tanvir)
3. Introduction to Bureaucracy (Theory and Practice in Public Administration)
(Kurt Dizon)
4. What is Machine Bureaucracy?
(Marketing Business Network)
5. What is a Bureaucracy? Insights from Max Weber's Iron Cage
(Dr. D University)
6. Government Bureaucracy sketch
(Odys Lam)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Velia Krajcik

Last Updated: 02/04/2023

Views: 6682

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Velia Krajcik

Birthday: 1996-07-27

Address: 520 Balistreri Mount, South Armand, OR 60528

Phone: +466880739437

Job: Future Retail Associate

Hobby: Polo, Scouting, Worldbuilding, Cosplaying, Photography, Rowing, Nordic skating

Introduction: My name is Velia Krajcik, I am a handsome, clean, lucky, gleaming, magnificent, proud, glorious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.