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Characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Sociologist, Max Weber, studied the structure of organizations and theorized that there were five main characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy. So no matter what the goal of a specific organization is, whether it is a business or a religious organization or a charity, it would display these five basic features. The first is the division of labor. So, within a bureaucracy people are trained to do specific tasks. So the person who works in the administration office in a university probably doesn't teach classes, and professors aren't usually responsible for building maintenance. And there are some really good aspects of this. When people specialize, they can really become experts in the areas that they're working in, and it can help to increase the overall efficiency of the organization, especially large-scale organizations. But it can also have some downsides as well. According to conflict theory, this type of division of labor can increase feelings of alienation in individual workers, because it separates them from other workers and denies them the pride associated with seeing a task through from beginning to end, which might also lead to less worker satisfaction and less productivity overall. It can also lead to what's referred to as trained incapacity within the general organization or cases where workers become so specialized in their tasks that they lose touch with the overall picture. The next characteristic of bureaucracy is a hierarchy of organization. Rather than all members of a bureaucracy being equal, each position is under the supervision of a higher authority, and this can be positive, in that it can help to clarify who is in command. It can tell us who is in charge of what, but it can also deprive individuals of having a voice in decision making, especially those who are lower down on the hierarchical chain. This structure can also allow people to shirk responsibility, and this is especially troublesome when it comes to unethical tasks. You may have heard of the term, "I was just following orders." This structure can also allow individuals to hide mistakes, sometimes serious mistakes, since no one person interacts with all members. The third characteristic of bureaucracy is the existence of written rules and regulations, and as you might expect, rules and regulations do a lot of good for an organization. They let workers know what is expected of them. They help to ensure uniform performance by all members or workers. They can help to maintain equal treatment of all employees, and they can give a sense of unity or continuity to an organization, because even if individual members come and go, the laws and structure of the organization can remain the same. But as with all of the other things we have mentioned, there can be a dark side to this as well, because rules can sometimes stifle creativity from individual members, and if an organization has too many rules, if it has too much structure, it may discourage employees from taking initiative. It can also lead to goal displacement or cases where commitment to following the rules becomes more important than the original goals of the organization. The fourth characteristic is impersonality, and I know that this might sound like it's a completely negative term, but here it's being used in an interesting way. It is used to describe how individuals and officials are supposed to conduct their activities in an unbiased manner. So it's supposed to ensure equal treatment to each person within an organization, but, of course, impersonality can also lead to feelings of alienation, because it can lead to the perception that those in charge are cold and uncaring, and it can even serve to discourage loyalty to the group. The last characteristic is longer than the other ones. It is employment based on technical qualifications, and I actually kind of see this one as being an offshoot of impersonality, because this describes how hiring within a bureaucracy is supposed to be based on the qualifications that a person has and should not be influenced by either favoritism or personal rivalries, and this can be really positive. Obviously, it can serve to decrease discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, in some ways it can also serve to decrease ambition, because it might lead people to do only what is necessary to secure a job or promotion and nothing more. It can also lead to what is known as the Peter principle, which was put forth by a man named Laurence J. Peter, and this is the idea that every employee within a hierarchy will keep getting promoted until they reach a level of incompetence. So, talented people get promotion after promotion until finally they advance to a position that they can't handle. And so, they remain at that position because they aren't good enough at that current job to get promoted any further.