Max Weber’s Ideal Bureaucracy

Max Weber was a German sociologist, jurist, and political economist who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (late 1800s-early 1900s).  He made numerous contributions to social theory and research.  One of his most notable contributions is his bureaucratic model.

Weber’s model of bureaucracy arose in response to industrialization, which resulted in the rise of large-scale workplace organizations.  When looking at these large-scale organizations, Weber expressed concerns about traditional authority (using relationships, kinships, or customs to lead and make decisions), which he viewed as leading to several problems, including particularism (favoritism): employees were hired or fired for a variety of non-organization reasons, such as religion, race, sex, and relational or family connections.  Weber argued that traditional authority and particularism reduced organizational effectiveness.

Weber favored a more rational approach to organizational leadership and decision-making.  According to Weber, the ideal bureaucracy has five characteristics:

  1. Division of labor and task specialization
  2. Hierarchy of organization
  3. Written rules and regulations (i.e., standard operating procedures)
  4. Impersonality and the rigid separation of personal life and work life
  5. Merit (i.e., employment decisions based on technical qualifications)

The video below discusses these characteristics in more depth and identifies positive and negative aspects associated with each characteristic.