Schools of Management Thought – Approaches/Theories – BBA Notes/MBA Notes

Schools of Management Thought


(iii) The Bureaucratic Theory School

Max Weber propounded the bureaucratic theory of organization and management, which has profoundly influenced modern thinking in these areas. A German sociologist and contemporary of Taylor and Fayol, Weber developed the bureaucratic model of organization which is essentially an universal model of efficient organizations. Bureaucracy refers to “certain characteristics of organizational design”. Weber viewed bureaucracy as “the most efficient form that could be used most effectively for complex organizations business, government, military, for example—arising out of the needs of modern society.
The major advantage of bureaucracy is that, “precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction, and of material and personal costs arc raised to the optimum point”.1’ Its major disadvantages lie in red-tape, rigidity and neglect of human factor.

Let’s study The Concept of Bureaucracy in Detail.


A bureaucracy is an administrative or social system that relies on a set of rules and procedures, separation of functions and a hierarchical structure in implementing controls over an organization, government or social system. Large administrative staffs are most common in large organizations that need standardized rules and procedures or consistency across a wide range of business activities.

The term bureaucracy was coined in 1745 by Jacques Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay.

Features of Bureaucracy

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

1. Administrative class

Bureaucratic organizations generally have administrative class responsible for maintaining coordinative activities of the members. Main features of this class are:

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 organization is determined by the rules and regulations of the organization.

iv. They do not have any proprietary interest in the organization.

v. They are selected for the purpose of employment.

2. Hierarchy

The basic feature of bureaucratic organization is that there is a hierarchy of positions in the organization. The bureaucratic organization follows the principle of hierarchy i.e. lower office is subject to control and supervision by a higher office.

3.  Division of work

Work of the organization is divided on the basis of specialization to take advantages of division of labor.

4. Official rules

The administrative process is continuous and governed by official rules. Rules provide the benefits of stability, continuity and predictability and each official knows precisely the outcome of his behavior in a particular matter.

5. Impersonal relationships

The relationships are governed through the system of official authority and rules. Thus decisions are governed by rational factors rather than personal factors like emotions and sentiments.

6. Official Record

 Bureaucratic organization is characterized by maintenance of proper official records for future reference.

Problems in Bureaucracy

The major problems of bureaucracy organization are:

1. Invalidity of Bureaucracy Assumptions

Many authors and scholars believe that the conditions of bureaucracy are not found in practice or even if found they may not result into efficiency. Some aspects of invalidity of bureaucracy are given below:

i. Rigid organizational hierarchy works against efficiency as it over emphasize superior-subordinate relationships.

ii. Rules are normally provided for guidelines but often they become source of inefficiency because of too much emphasis on rules and their misuse.

2. Goal Displacement

Goal displacement occurs when resources are used for a purpose other than for which the organization exists. For example rules are means for achieving organizational goals but following of rules may become the objective of the organization and organizational objectives may become secondary.

3. Unintended Consequences

There may  be consequences which have not been visualized but which emerge because of the system. Such consequences may be of following nature:

i. There may be trained incapacity in the organization

This means when a person is trained he may not think beyond his training and tries to correlate every matter with what he has been taught during training sessions.

ii. Conflict between professionals and bureaucrats

This may arise due to difference in orientation of both. Professionals may work according to discipline for efficiency while bureaucrats emphasize on rules and regulations.

iii. Conflict between organization and individuals

There may be some features of bureaucratic organization which may work against the human nature. Human beings like to work in free environment but bureaucratic organization puts restrictions through rules and regulations.

4. Inhuman organization

Behavioral scientists believe bureaucratic organization to be inhuman in which there is no importance of human beings and their feelings and emotions. They are expected to work as machines.

5. Closed system approach

Bureaucratic organization has closed system approach which is self-contained and self-maintaining. Bureaucratic organization can work well when environment is highly static and predictable. However the nature of environment is dynamic and heterogeneous. Thus an open system perspective is more suitable for management of modern organizations while bureaucratic organization has closed system perspective.

Limitations of Classical theory 

Classical theorists viewed organization as a giant machine subject to certain immutable laws in its design and management. They assumed that employees could be motivated by financial incentives alone, and ignored that people are unique, and seek satisfaction of a variety of socio-psychological needs through their organizational membership. They thought that employees always acted rationally, whereas human behaviour is usually characterized by a certain amount of non-rationality. They also assumed that productivity was the only criterion of organizational efficiency, and neglected the multiplicity of organizational objectives. Moreover, they ignored the influence of informal groups on individual behaviour. Their overall approach is mechanistic, and they do not adequately deal with some of the important dimensions of management such as leadership, motivation, communication and informal relations. Finally, they also failed to consider the role of group and intergroup behaviour in organizations. The Human Relations School focused on these dimensions of organization and management.

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