Organizational Models

Like groups in general, formal organizations are everywhere. Thus, sociologists have been quite interested in studying how organizations work. To learn more about how organizations operate effectively, sociologists develop organizational models. Some models describe the actual characteristics of organizations, while others describe the ideal characteristics for achieving their goals. To date, no single model has adequately described the fully complex nature of organizations in general.

Bureaucratic organizations

Max Weber noted that modern Western society has necessitated a certain type of formal organization: bureaucracy. According to Weber, who believed that bureaucracy is the most efficient form of organization possible, the essential characteristics of a bureaucracy include
  • Written regulations and rules, which maximize bureaucratic operations and efficiency.

  • A highly defined hierarchy of authority, in which those higher in the hierarchy give orders to those lower in the hierarchy. Those who work in bureaucratic settings are called bureaucrats.

  • Bureaucratic authority resting in various offices or positions, not in individuals.

  • Employees being hired based on technical know‐how and performance on entry examinations.

  • Formal and impersonal record keeping and communications within the organization.

  • A paid administrative staff.

Although a bureaucracy itself may be specialized and impersonal, bureaucrats still retain their humanity. Within any bureaucracy, informal relationships invariably form, which can increase worker satisfaction, but only to a point. Informal groups can become disruptive to the efficiency of the bureaucracy.

Critics of Weber note that bureaucracy can also promote inefficiency. A bureaucracy can only formulate rules based on what it knows or expects. Sometimes novel situations or extenuating circumstances arise that the rules do not cover. When the unusual happens, rules may not be of much help.

Collectivist organizations

Unlike Weber, Karl Marx argued that capitalists use bureaucracies to exploit the working class. Marx predicted that bureaucracies would eventually disappear in a communist (classless) society, and that collectivist organizations, in which supervisors and workers function as equals for equal wages, would replace the bureaucracies. A variation of the collective organizational model has been tried in China, but with limited success. Critics note that collectivist organizations do not work because “leader” and “followers” inevitably emerge when groups of people are involved.