Types of Bureaucracy

The word “Bureaucracy” stems from the combination of a French word “Bureau” and a Greek word “Kratos”. In its very basic form, the definition of bureaucracy states that it is a collection or group of officials who engage in administrative and/or policy making duties. The presence of bureaucracy and bureaucrats is largely imperative in modern society where smooth running of an organization, a government or any department for that matter depends on the efficiency of this system. Bureaucratic systems can be segregated into different categories although the thin line of separation between them can be blurred at times.

Formalization is a major type of bureaucracy which can be further divided into two types, Enabling or Encouraging and Coercive. It also has three patterns namely Representative Bureaucracy; Punishment Based Bureaucracy and Mock Bureaucracy. Let’s take a deeper look into them. It is the essence of American big government.

Representative Bureaucracy: This type of bureaucracy enforces rules that are in the interest of both upper and lower management in an organization. Representative bureaucracy is prevalent in the manufacturing industry. An example would be Safety Rules that are enforced in a factory environment. In such an environment the rules are observed in unison by each stakeholder without any resentment.

Punishment Based Bureaucracy: This type of officialdom induces a sense of power or authority as one party tries to enforce a set of rules on the other. Failure to comply with the rules is often dealt with by handing out punishments. For example, in an organization, there might be rules regarding the working hours and failure to adhere to them can result in payment cuts. Such a type of bureaucracy has been denounced by many researchers as they have been found to be counterproductive.

Mock Bureaucracy: A bureaucracy is considered as “Mock” where none of the involved parties feel any obligation towards abiding by the set rules. An example of such bureaucracy would be smoking rules in an organization where both higher officials and basic employees often violate the regulations.

Enabling or Encouraging Bureaucracy: In Max Weber and theory of bureaucracy it promotes a work environment where employees are encouraged to enhance their skills and take part in the improvement of standard procedures. Drawing an example from Toyota’s factory work processes, supervisors and factory workers get together in order to find out and document the easiest and most efficient way to perform a task.

• Internal Transparency: It is an important criterion for an Enabling Bureaucracy. in this case, employees are provided with maximum visibility of the process or tool they are using. This helps in “up skilling” and also helps in handling unforeseen contingencies.

• Global Transparency: It is the expanded version of Internal Transparency. In this environment, employees have total visibility of the organizational processes. Thus every person has complete idea about the scopes and opportunities present in the organization and works towards utilizing them.

Coercive Bureaucracy: The Coercive version of Bureaucracy often tends to touch the attributes of autocracy in its processes. In such an environment, the managers and officials often try to deskill the employees and take away the flexibility of rules and regulations. Transparency is often non-existent and any deviations from standardized processes are met with harsh punishments. The rise of such a bureaucratic system is hallmark of departments and governments where strict control over the subordinates is desired. The governments in countries with military rules often display Coercive Bureaucracy in order to keep a semblance of democracy while practicing autocracy under the veil.

Apart from these theoretical divisions, there is another type of bureaucracy called “Multi Window Bureaucracy” that is often exhibited by government offices. The procedures in government offices often get very complex and long-winded with time resulting in unnecessary delays and bureaucratic problems. This happens due to each job requiring multiple levels of approvals.

Red Tapism: This is not a type of bureaucracy but rather a result of Multi Window Bureaucracy which deserves a mention here. The long winded nature of multi window system has given birth to a term called “Red Tapism” borrowing its origin from the red tapes used to bind the files in government offices. It refers to the delay caused by movement of files between numerous desks (Bureau means “Desk” in French) and the large amount of time taken even to get a simple task done.

These are the general types of Bureaucracy in the world. There may be several other smaller subtypes but those are not in the scope of this article. Hope this article has helped to clarify and dispel some of the myths and misconceptions regarding Bureaucracy.