Organisations and Bureaucracy

Yesterday I joined the demonstration at the UvA at Roeterseiland. The reason for being there was simple. The UvA, more precisely the “College van Bestuur” allowed unnecessary violence against its own students. When the top executives of an organisation use or allow unnecessary violence against their own people and internal stakeholders something is wrong. In the case of the UvA there is one factor at the core of its current issues, namely bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is a way of managing organisations. This kind of management is basic knowledge to many business students but is vital for many organisations. Vital because sometimes that one person for that one job is simply necessary.

Bureaucracy comes from the Max Weber. He was a German sociologist who lived from 1864 to 1920. He described it as a way of how organisations evolved and observed a number of aspects. Check out the Wiki and this entry.

  • Unique organisational form.
  • Division of tasks and responsibilities based on skills per employee.
  • Hierarchical organisation: owner above manager, manager above employee.
  • Emphasis on position and skill set over personal relationships.
  • Best case scenario: an organisation with experts for particular task sets on all hierarchical levels.
  • Worst case scenario: an organisation with incompetent employees in the wrong positions.

In addition to the worst case scenario there is another aspect that plays a big role in every organisation. This aspect is leadership or in question form “who is in charge?” In general most people are used to have a boss or a higher ranked employee to whom they have to report.

In a bureaucracy leadership can be very complex. On all levels there are particular employees with particular task sets and each task tends to have its own procedures and methods. This means that “who is in charge?” will be answered with “go to A and B and fill in this, do that and check with …” This can lead to people abusing their position (power) and they say “I was following procedure. I refer you to C and D” ad infinitum.

Right now the UvA’s “College van Bestuur” refers to the judge and the police to say “what happened, happened” and the police violence against UvA students was used. Sometimes procedures versus people matters occur and decisions are made.

Bureaucracy can work very effectively. In every organisation do consider that there are people too…

P.S. The Maagdenhuis was pretty clean and safe on Friday.