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Bureaucratic Organizations: Examples, Lesson & Quiz

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Ashley D. Manker

In this lesson, we will discuss what a bureaucratic organization is. We will also cover a few characteristics and examples of bureaucratic organizations, and then you can test your understanding with a quiz.

We also recommend watching The Bureaucratic Leader and Work Specialization in Organizations

What is a Bureaucratic Organization?

A bureaucratic organization is a form of management that has a pyramidal command structure. The bureaucratic organization is very organized with a high degree of formality in the way it operates. Organizational charts generally exist for every department, and decisions are made through an organized process. A strict command and control structure is present at all times. Bureaucracies are meant to be orderly, fair and highly efficient.

Bureaucratic organizational structures have many layers of management, cascading down from senior executives to regional managers to departmental managers - all the way down to shift supervisors who work alongside frontline employees. So, authority is centered at the top, and information generally flows from the top down. For example, a senior executive may implement a new policy stating that employees must have all overtime approved my management before actually working the overtime. The new policy will go from the desk of the senior executive all the way down to the frontline employee.

Pyramidal Command Structure

Characteristics of Bureaucratic Organizations

The basic characteristics of a bureaucracy are:

  • Rules and job responsibilities are written down and clearly stated
  • Clear hierarchy of power is concentrated among a few high-ranking managers
  • Appointments and promotions of officers are formal, because these officers will be held accountable
  • Employees are hired based on their skills and knowledge, not because of favoritism or luck
  • Salaries are tied to a pay-grade system
  • Bureaucracies are unable or unwilling to adapt to changing conditions quickly
  • Micro-managing is common

Examples of Bureaucratic Organizations

Modern bureaucracies in the United States take many forms. Some examples include:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Prisons
  • Police departments
  • Colleges and universities

Advantages

Senior-level managers in bureaucratic organizations have a great deal of control over how the business is run. This control allows them to service many customers within a short period of time and to make sure that work is consistent and efficient. Another advantage is that there are written guidelines and rules, so work is predictable and leaves little room for guessing, which could lead to errors.

Disadvantages

Since bureaucracies are so structured, they can discourage creativity from frontline workers and supervisors. Frontline workers may also receive less satisfaction from their jobs because of the predictability in their work, which leads to high turnover. Employees may leave their positions to find more fulfilling jobs elsewhere. Also, bureaucracies cannot adapt to changing conditions quickly; it may take years to get a new process approved.

Some employees consider bureaucratic organizations to be impersonal places to work, because the employees are valued by the tasks they perform. These tasks, rules and regulations are often specific and detailed, which leaves little room for employees to deviate from normal procedures. Some customers also find that dealing with bureaucratic organizations is time-consuming; basic requests have to be sent up the chain of command for approval. This is sometimes called 'red tape.'

Lesson Summary

In conclusion, bureaucracy can be an effective means of organization in a business. It allows businesses to deal with a larger number of people in a short period of time. Although many people do not like them, regulations and standard operating procedures pretty much guarantee that everyone is treated fairly. On the other hand, those same rules and regulations tend to cause decisions to be made slowly.

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