Bureaucratic Theory by Max Weber

An Introduction to Max Weber by Bureaucratic Theory

A bureaucratic theory introduced by Max Weber includes two essential elements, including structuring an organization into a hierarchy and having a clearly defined role to help administer an organization and its members. A German Sociologist, Max Weber, described a theory to operate an organization effectively which is known as the Bureaucratic management approach or Weberian Bureaucracy. Read the article below to know more about the Max Weber Bureaucracy Theory. 


What do You mean by Bureaucracy? 

"Bureaucracy is an organizational structure characterized by many laws, standardized procedures, procedures and requirements, number of desks, the meticulous division of labour and responsibility, clear hierarchies and professional interactions between employees that are almost impersonal."- Max Weber.


The Concept of Max Weber Bureaucracy Theory

A German scientist, Max Weber, describes bureaucracy as an institution that is highly organized, formalized, and also impersonal. He also developed the belief that there must be a fixed hierarchical structure for an organization and clear rules, regulations, and lines of authority that regulate it. The bureaucracy of Max Weber  has the following attributes:


  • Specialization of labour

  • A formal set of rules and regulations

  • Well-defined hierarchy within the organization

  • Impersonality in the application of rules


Max Weber Bureaucracy Theory Organizational Structure

Bureaucratic organizations evolved from traditional structures due to the following changes:


  • In traditional structures, the leader delegates duties and can change them at any time. However, over time, this changed and there was a clear specification of jurisdiction areas along with a distribution of activities as official duties.

  • In a bureaucratic organization, the subordinates follow the order of superiors but can appeal if they feel the need. On the other hand, in the traditional structure, the authority was disseminated. 

  • The rules are detailed, stable, and can be easily understood by employees. Additionally, the company registers them in permanent archives. 

  • Personal property is distinct from property in the workplace. The means of production or administration, therefore, belong to the bureau. 

  • The selection of officials shall be based on professional qualification and appointment and shall not be based on an election. In addition, for their service, officials receive a salary as compensation.

  • The official is hired for a trial period and then offered a permanent position with the organization. This protects him from arbitrary discharge.


Max Weber’s Bureaucratic Form – 6 Major Principles

Max Weber identified the following six core principles of the bureaucratic form:


  • A Structured Hierarchical Structure: In a bureaucratic organization, each level governs the level below it. Also, the level below it governs it. The foundation of central planning and centralized decision making is a formal hierarchy. 

  • Rules-Based Management- To exercise control, the company uses rules. Therefore at higher levels, the lower levels effortlessly execute the decisions made.

  • Organization of Functional Specialties - Specialists do the job. The company often breaks workers into groups depending on the type of work they do or the abilities they possess. 

  • Up-Focused Or In-Focused: If the organization's purpose is to represent the stockholders, board, or some other institution that motivated it then it is up-focused. On the other hand, it is in-focused if the goal is to serve the company itself and others inside it (like producing income, etc.).

  • Impersonal - All workers are handled fairly by hierarchical organizations. They also fairly treat all clients and do not allow individual differences to affect them. 

  • Employment-oriented Professional Qualifications - Selection is based on technical qualifications and skills as well as employee promotion.

Though criticism has come from several corners of these laws, the organization's hierarchical structure tends to live on.


Features of Bureaucratic Organization

Following are the different features of bureaucratic organization:

  • A well-defined chain of command exists. 

  • The high level of Division of Labor and Specialization.

  • It follows Rationality, Objectively, and Continuity theory. 

  • The relationship between the members of the association is formal and impersonal. And it's focused not on personalities, but roles.

  • The rules and regulations are well defined and employee duties and privileges are indicated. Such ideals range from the bottom of the organization to all and must be strictly observed. 

  • Professional credentials are used for selection and promotion. 

  • Relevance is granted only to bureaucratic or legal authority.


Criticism of Bureaucratic Organization

Max Weber's Hierarchical Management Approach still has several fault lines and has attracted criticism for that. 


  • The focus is only on rules and laws. 

  • Owing to the formalities and regulations of the Hierarchical Organisation, there would be needless gaps in decision-making. 

  • Owing to so much formality and laws, organization and communication were hindered.

  • Bureaucracy requires a lot of paperwork and has an extensive level of authority, resulting in a lot of time, effort, and resources being wasted. Not optimal for effectiveness. 

  • A hierarchical approach is not ideal for business organizations because of its unnecessary formality. For government agencies, the bureaucratic model might be appropriate.

  • The professional skills of the personnel for promotion and transfers are given too much significance. The dedication and commitment of the worker are not considered. 

  • Human Resource Limited scope exists for human resources. Informal groups are not given any meaning and no scope is given to form one.

  • The hierarchical approach of Max Weber served as a solution to the issues of conventional administrative structures. But it was not the optimal solution or "close to perfect." 

  • The bureaucratic system gives top-level management all the significance and control. 


And there are just so many rules and degrees of authority. It gives the workers a greater sense of security. But a window for "red-tapism" is created by bureaucratic management.

FAQs on Bureaucratic Theory by Max Weber

1. What is Bureaucracy? Also, Explain the Characteristics?

Definition of bureaucracy: "Bureaucracy is an organizational structure characterized by many laws, standardized procedures, procedures and requirements, number of desks, the meticulous division of labour and responsibility, clear hierarchies and professional interactions between employees that are almost impersonal."


According to Max Weber's bureaucratic theory, such a structure was indispensable in large organizations for a large number of workers to perform all tasks structurally. In addition, selection and promotion only occur based on professional credentials in a hierarchical organization. A more detailed description of the bureaucratic principles of management is given below.


The six major principles are -


  • A formal hierarchical structure

  • Rules-based Management

  • Functional Specialty organization

  • Up-focused or In-focused Mission

  • Impersonal

  • Employment-based on Technical Qualifications

2. Why is a Bureaucratic Organization Criticized?

Here are some reasons:


  • Inflexible and static are the rules. In addition, the focus on these rules and regulations is too strong. 

  • No priority is granted to informal groups. Currently, in most business organizations, informal groups play a significant role. 

  • Bureaucracy usually requires a lot of paperwork, which contributes to a waste of time, resources, and effort as well.

  • In the decision-making process, the rules and formalities result in an unnecessary delay. 

  • Although a hierarchical framework can help government agencies, business organizations need fast decision-making and procedural flexibility. It is not appropriate for the latter, therefore.

  • Although the employee's professional credentials are an important part of his promotion, a hierarchical company does not recognize the commitment and dedication of the employee. 

  • Human Resource Management is limited in scope. 

  • Coordinating and communicating is difficult.

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