Some Issues Associated with Machine Bureaucracy

No structure has evoked more heated debate than the Machine Bureau- cracy. As one of its most eminent students has noted:

On the one hand, most authors consider the bureaucratic organization to be the embodiment of rationality in the modern world, and, as such, to be intrinsically superior to all other possible forms of organization. On the other hand, many authors—often the same ones—consider it a sort of Leviathan, preparing the enslavement of the human race. (Crozier, 1964:176)

Weber, of course, emphasized the rationality of this structure; in fact, the word machine comes directly from his writings:

The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organization. The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the non-mechanical modes of production. Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, dis- cretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs—these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureau-cratic administration. . . (Gerth and Mills translation, 1958:214)

A machine is certainly precise; it is also reliable and easy to control; and it is efficient—at least when restricted to the job it has been designed to do. These are the reasons many organizations are structured as Machine Bureaucracies. In fact, these structures are the prime manifestations of our society’s high degree of specialization; moreover, they are the major con- tributors to our high material standard of living. Without Machine Bureau- cracies, automobiles would be reserved for the rich and travelers would fly at their own peril. No structure is better suited to mass production and consistent output, none can more efficiently regulate work. Our society— such as it is—simply could not function without these structures. When an integrated set of simple, repetitive tasks must be performed precisely and consistently by human beings, the Machine Bureaucracy is the most effi- cient structure—indeed, the only conceivable one.

But in these same advantages of machinelike efficiency lie all the disadvantages of these structures. Machines consist of mechanical parts; organizational structures also include human beings—and that is where the analogy breaks down. First, we shall discuss the human problems that arise in the operating core when people see themselves as more than just mechanical factors of production. Second, we shall discuss the coordina- tion problems that arise in the administrative center when conflicts cannot be resolved by standardization. But in another sense, the machine analogy holds up and helps us to define a third set of problems—those of adapt- ability at the strategic apex. Machines are designed for specific purposes; they are difficult to modify when conditions change.

1. Human problems in the operating core

James Worthy, when an executive of Sears, Roebuck, wrote a penetrating and scathing criticism of Machine Bureaucracy in his book, Big Business and Free Men. Worthy traces the root of the human problems in these structures to the “scientific management” movement that swept America, and later the Soviet Union,4 in the first third of this century. He sees its founder, Frederick W. Taylor, as the epitome of the personality drawn to the Ma- chine Bureaucracy.

His virtual obsession to control the environment around him was expressed in everything he did: in his home life, his gardening, his golfing; even his afternoon stroll was not a casual affair but something to be carefully planned and rigidly followed. Nothing was left to chance if in any way chance could be avoided. . . .

From his writings and his biography one gets the impression of a rigid, insecure personality, desperately afraid of the unknown and the unforseen, able to face the world with reasonable equanimity only if everything possible has been done to keep the world in its place and to guard against anything that might upset his careful, painstaking plans. (1959:74-75)

Worthy acknowledges Taylor’s contribution to efficiency, narrowly defined. Worker initiative did not, however, enter into his efficiency equa- tion. Taylor “visualized the role of people within the organization in pre- cisely the same manner as he visualized the component parts of a mecha- nism. ‘A complicated and delicately adjusted machine’ was a favorite figure of speech” (pp. 65-66). So efficient organizations came to be de- scribed as “smoothly running machines,” the organigrams as “blue- prints,” and the time-and-motion-study analyst’s role as “human en- gineering” (pp. 66-67). The problem was that “the methods of engineering have proved inappropriate to human organization” (p. 67). The assump- tion, as Emery (1971) has put it, that “we’ll get the engineering system straight and simply tie the social system to it” (p. 186), created its own set of difficulties. Taylor’s pleas to remove “all possible brain work” (Worthy, p.67) from the shop floor also removed all possible initiative from the people who worked there: “.. . the machine has no will of its own. Its parts have no urge to independent action. Thinking, direction—even pur- pose—must be provided from outside or above” (p. 79). Treating people as “means,” as “categories of status and function rather than as indi-viduals,” had the “consequence of destroying the meaning of work it- self.” And that has been “fantastically wasteful for industry and society” (p. 70). Organizations have paid dearly for these attitudes in the various forms of worker resistance—absenteeism, high turnover rates, sloppy workmanship, strikes, even outright sabotage.

Studs Terkel’s (1972) fascinating book, Working, in which “people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do”  pro- vides chapters of evidence on workers’ responses to Machine Bureau- cracies. Here is how a steelworker discusses his job:

I don’t know who the guy is who said there is nothing sweeter than an unfinished symphony. Like an unfinished painting and an unfinished poem. If he creates this thing one day—let’s say, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It took him a long time to do this, this beautiful work of art. But what if he had to create this Sistine Chapel a thousand times a year? Don’t you think that would even dull Michelangelo’s mind? Or if da Vinci had to draw his anatom- ical charts thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, eighty, ninety, a hundred times a day? Don’t you think that would even bore da Vinci? (p. xxxvii)

Undoubtedly.  Unless he had the temperament of Babe Secoli,  a checker in a Chicago supermarket with a very different perspective on machine bu- reaucratic work:

We sell everything here, millions of items. From potato chips and pop—we even have a genuine pearl in a can of oysters. It sells for two somethin’. Snails with the shells that you put on the table, fanciness. There are items I never heard of we have here. I know the price of every one. Sometimes the boss asks me and I get a kick out of it. .. .

You sort of memorize the prices. It just comes to you. I know half a gallon of milk is sixty-four cents; a gallon, $1.10. You look at the labels. A small can of peas, Raggedy Ann. Green Giant, that’s a few pennies more. I know Green Giant’s eighteen and I know Raggedy Ann is fourteen You

just memorize. On the register is a list of some prices, that’s for the part-time girls. I never look at it.

I don’t have to look at the keys on my register. I’m like the secretary that knows her typewriter. The touch. My hand fits. The number nine is my big middle finger. The thumb is number one, two and three and up. The side of my hand uses the bar for the total and all that.

I use my three fingers—my thumb, my index finger, and my middle finger. The right hand. And my left hand is on the groceries. They put down their groceries. I got my hips pushin’ on the bottom and it rolls around on the counter. When I feel I have enough groceries in front of me, I let go of my hip. I’m just movin’—the hips, the hand, and the register, the hips, the hand, and the register (As she demonstrates, her hands and hips move in the man-

ner of an Oriental dancer.) You just keep goin’, one, two, one, two. If you’ve got that rhythm, you’re a fast checker. Your feet are flat on the floor and you’re turning your head back and forth. . . .

I’m a couple of days away, I’m very lonesome for this place. When I’m on a vacation, I can’t wait to go, but two or three days away, I start to get fidgety. I can’t stand around and do nothin’. I have to be busy at all times. I look forward to comin’ to work. It’s a great feelin’. I enjoy it somethin’ terrible. (pp. 282, 286)

The difference between the da Vincis in the steel mills and the Secolis in the supermarkets is that some people take to routine work and others abhor it. Some simply appreciate regularity in their work—perhaps, like Secoli, because it gives them a chance to get to know it well, or perhaps because it satisfies a need for order and security. But others, either because their need is to do creative, self-actualizing work or because they dislike being told what to do, cannot tolerate the work offered them in Machine Bureaucracies.

As long as everybody can find the work that best suits him or her, there is no problem. But apparently, not everyone can. There appear to be more jobs in the Machine Bureaucracies of our society than people happy to fill them, and too few in the more popular structures. Thus, one study in an automobile assembly plant found that 69 percent of the workers com- plained of monotony, 87 percent wanted to find a job with higher skills and more responsibility, variety, and freedom; most claimed they stayed be- cause of what they could earn, only 6 percent because they liked the work (cited in Melcher, 1976:85).

And time is not on the side of the Machine Bureaucracy. Rising edu- cational levels raise work asperations—that is, bring out the need for self- actualization at the expense of the need for security. Moreover, the welfare system has taken care of certain security needs, giving the worker the option of doing nothing without starving. The result is that today’s Ma- chine Bureaucracies are experiencing more and more resistance from peo- ple who simply do not want to be there, at least in societies like America. Whether the same phenomenon is occuring in countries like, say, Switzer- land, where the people seem to relish order and regularity, is not clear. (And the problem is not restricted to the operating core. Successful Ameri- can middle-aged executives—no longer tolerant of the control mentality— seem also to be quitting in increasing numbers, after years of struggling to get to where they are.) Clearly, in the view of a growing portion of the work force, Machine Bureaucracies are becoming unacceptable places to spend their working lives.

Taylor was fond of saying, “In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first” (quoted in Worthy, 1959:73). Prophetic words, indeed. Modern man seems to exist for his systems; many of the organizations he created to serve him have come to rule him. The con- sumer seems to find cheap goods in the marketplace on Saturday only if he is willing to squander his talents as a producer from Monday to Friday. Mass consumption in return for dreary production.

But even the consumption is affected, by what one writer (Thomp- son, 1961) has referred to as the “bureaupathologies ‘—the dysfunctional behaviors of these structures, which lead to higher prices, shoddy work- manship, and indifferent or rude treatment of customers. Sometimes the consequences are bizarre. A story in the December 17, 1971, issue of Time magazine told what happens when specialization drives workers to dis- place ends in favor of means. Firemen in Genoa, Texas, set fire to aban- doned buildings because they were bored. Explained one, “We’d hang around the station on the night shift without a thing to do. We just wanted to get the red light flashing and the bells clanging.”

The various bureaupathologies reinforce each other to form vicious circles. The displacement of ends in favor of means, the mistreatment of clients, the various manifestations of worker alienation—all lead to a tight- ening of the controls on behavior. The implicit motto of the Machine Bu- reaucracy seems to be, “When in doubt, control.” All problems are to be solved by the turning of the technocratic screws. But since this is what caused the bureaupathologies in the first place, more of it serves only to magnify the problems, leading to the imposition of further controls, and so on. How far this can go is perhaps best illustrated by a firm that intervened to reverse the process. When Marks and Spencer, the U.K. retail chain, dispensed with inventory replacement cards, sales receipts, time clocks, and other control procedures, the owners estimated that the firm was able to eliminate 8,000 of its 28,000 jobs and to save 26 million pieces of paper annually (Becker and Gordon, 1966-67:331-32).

But not every organization can wipe out most of its control system in one fell swoop. So other means have been tried—by the organization or its workers—to reverse the vicious circles, everything from job enlargement to outright democratization. As discussed in Chapter 2, job enlargement (or “enrichment”), where the workers are given a wider variety of tasks to perform and perhaps control over the design of those tasks as well, does not seem to hold a great deal of promise for major improvement of the work. No doubt the engineering orientation has led to excessive specializa- tion in many cases. When the human factor is finally plugged into the performance equation—that is, when the worker’s initiative is taken into account—it clearly becomes worthwhile to enlarge many jobs. But the question is, How far? And the answer seems to be, Not very. As we have emphasized in this chapter, the nature of the Machine Bureaucracy’s work reflects above all the regulating characteristic of the organization’s techni- cal system and the stability and simplicity of its environment. The obses- sion with control is a response to these conditions, albeit often an excessive one. As long as these conditions remain—in essence, as long as society demands cheap, mass-produced goods and services—a great many jobs will remain pretty much as they are now—that is, minimally affected by job enlargement. Braverman (1974) puts it rather brutally: “Taylorism dominates the world of production; the practitioners of ‘human relations’ and ‘industrial psychology’ are the maintenance crew for the human ma- chinery” (p. 87).

If the human problems in the operating core of Machine Bureaucracy cannot be solved by job enlargement, what are the prospects for democra- tization instead? Here, too, the evidence (discussed in Chapter 5) is dis- couraging, and for the same reason: democratization does not eliminate the fundamental conflict in the Machine Bureaucracy between engineer- ing efficiency on the one hand and individual satisfaction on the other. Giving the workers the right to vote for directors periodically does not change the realities of their everyday work. (It might, however, somewhat change their attitudes to that work, infusing a dose of ideology into an otherwise utilitarian situation. A sense of ownership might reduce the feelings of alienation.) As we saw in Chapter 5, such democratization seems to centralize the structure further. Indeed, these effects can be pre- dicted from our Hypothesis 14, since, in electing the directors, the workers constitute a force for external control. That hypothesis indicated that exter- nal control not only centralizes a structure but also bureaucratizes it.

Nowhere is this result clearer than in Crozier’s (1964) description of another kind of democracy—a judicial type—where the workers impose rules in order to dilute their bosses’ control over them. As we noted earlier, this turns out to be a perverse kind of democracy indeed. With the bosses constrained by the rules, power passes up the hierarchy, and the structure becomes significantly more centralized. And with workers’ rules counter- ing managers’ rules, the structure also becomes more bureaucratic, at everybody’s expense. The workers end up being locked into an even tight- er straitjacket, albeit of their own design. The clients lose, too. Those of the ordinary Machine Bureaucracy can at least take solace in the fact that the rules are for their benefit—to encourage more efficient production. The additional rules of the bureaucracies Crozier describes have nothing to do with efficiency; they serve to protect the worker. As we shall soon see, like all rules, they act to inhibit innovation and adaptation. Where the workers are organized to fight the intrusions of management, change becomes well- nigh impossible. Judicial democratization catches the client in a tug of war between worker and manager. The organization burns up more of its ener- gy in its own conflicts, with less left over to produce outputs for the clients. The discouraging conclusion is that the Machine Bureaucracy creates major human problems in the operating core, ones for which no solutions are apparent. Joan Woodward had it right when she argued that in these structures, there is an irreconcilable conflict between the technical and social systems. What is good for production simply is not good for people. Fundamental change will apparently have to come, not through the front door of direct confrontation or legislation, but through the back door of changed conditions to which the organization must respond. Specifically, nothing short of automation of the technical system (or of an environment becoming more complex or dynamic) seems able to alleviate the social problems of the Machine Bureaucracy.

We do, of course, have one other choice as a society: to reduce our demand for cheap, mass-produced goods and services. As we shall see in Chapter 10, craft organizations, structured as Professional Bureaucracies, can sometimes produce the same outputs as Machine Bureaucracies but with less social turmoil and much higher quality. The question is whether we are prepared to pay the price: stoneware dishes replaced every genera- tion instead of plastic ones replaced every year, an occasional dress hand- woven in a studio instead of frequent ones mass-produced in a factory, a Ferrari every twenty years instead of a Ford every two. Of course, should the vicious circles intensify to the point where life in the Machine Bureau- cracy becomes so intolerable that nobody will work there, we shall have no other choice. Perhaps the system will end up serving man after all, despite himself.

2. Coordination problems in the administrative center

Since the operating core of the Machine Bureaucracy is not designed to handle conflict, many of the human problems that arise there spill over into the administrative structure. Again, Worthy (1959) says it best:

The organization was set up like a machine and it had to be operated like a machine. But because its components were human rather than mechanical, the task of controlling and directing it taxed the ingenuity of the scientific managers. The elaborate contrivances of the modern industrial organization, the masses of paper work and red tape, the layers on layers of supervision, the luxuriant growth of staff—all these are evidence of the difficulty of con- trolling human organizations in terms of mechanistic principles. (p. 72)

It is one of the ironies of the Machine Bureaucracy that to achieve the control it requires, it must mirror the narrow specialization of its operating core in its administrative structure. “By his sweeping redivision of labor as between workers and management, Taylor so increased the burden on management that a considerable further division of labor within manage- ment became essential” (pp. 67-68). And this administrative division of labor, in turn, leads to a sharp differentiation of the administrative struc- ture and narrow functional orientations. This in turn means problems of communication and coordination. Thus, one Harvard Business School case describes the three years of convoluted effort General Motors went through, with no sign of success, just to coordinate the purchase of work gloves across its units (Bennett, 1977).

The fact, as noted earlier, is that the administrative structure of the Machine Bureaucracy is ill-suited to the use of mutual adjustment. All the communication barriers in these structures—horizontal, vertical, status, line/staff—impede informal communication. “Each unit becomes jealous of its own perogatives and finds ways to protect itself against the pressure or encroachments of others” (Worthy, 1950:176).

Narrow functionalism not only impedes coordination; it also encour- ages the building of private empires. In such structures, it is difficult to associate any particular function with overall output or performance. Hence, when a manager calls for more personnel—more cost analysts, more clerks, more sales managers—no one can be quite sure whether the claim is legitimate. So there emerges a competition among the managers to build bigger and more powerful units, a competition stimulated by the bureaucratic rule that associates salary with number of subordinates. This encourages the building of top-heavy organizations, often more concerned with the political games to be won than the clients to be served. A Machine Bureaucracy free of market forces—for example, a government regulatory agency with an ensured budget and vague performance goals—can be- come virtually a closed system, responsible to no one and producing noth- ing, forever spinning its administrative wheels in great busyness.

But if mutual adjustment does not work—generating more political heat than cooperative light—how does the Machine Bureaucracy resolve its coordination problems in the administration? Instinctively, it tries standardization—for example, by tightening job descriptions or proliferat- ing rules. But standardization is not suited to handling the nonroutine problems of the administrative center. Indeed, it only makes them worse, undermining the influence of the line managers and increasing the conflict. So to reconcile the coordination problems that arise in its administrative center, the Machine Bureaucracy is left with only one coordinating mech- anism, direct supervision. Specifically, nonroutine coordination problems between units are “bumped” up the line hierarchy for reconciliation, until they reach a common level of supervision. This, of course, results in the centralization of power for decision making at the upper levels of the hierarchy, ultimately at the strategic apex. And this in turn results in a host of new problems. In effect, just as the human problems in the operating core become coordination problems in the administrative center, so too do the coordination problems in the administrative center become adapta- tion problems at the strategic apex.

3. Adaptation problems at the strategic apex

As long as its environment remains perfectly stable, the Machine Bureau- cracy faces no great difficulty of adaptation. Its standard procedures han- dle the routine problems of coordination, and nonroutine ones do not arise.

But no organization can expect that much stability. Environments inevitably change, generating new nonroutine problems. When these be- come frequent in the Machine Bureaucracy, the managers at the strategic apex quickly become overloaded. Every organigram—and our logo as well—shows a narrowing of the middle line as it approaches the strategic apex. The propensity to pass nonroutine problems up the line hierarchy causes a bottleneck at the top during times of change, which forces the senior managers to make their decisions quickly. But how can they do so when these are decisions that arose elsewhere in the organization, in places where the top managers lack intimate contact?

In theory, the Machine Bureaucracy is designed to account for this problem. It has a management information system (MIS) that aggregates information up the hierarchy, presenting the people at the top with concise summaries of what goes on down below—the perfect solution for the overloaded top manager. Except that much of the information is the wrong kind.

A number of problems arise in the MIS. For one thing, in the tall administrative structure of the Machine Bureaucracy, information must pass through many levels before it reaches the top. Losses take place at each one. Not only natural losses. The fact that the transfers are vertical— between people on different status levels of the hierarchy—means that intentional distortions of mformation also occur. Good news gets high- lighted and bad news blocked on its way up. Probably a greater problem is the MIS’s emphasis on “hard” (quantitative), aggregated information. A good deal of evidence suggests that it is not this kind of information top managers need to make their strategic decisions as much as it is soft, specific information.

Often the MIS data are too late as well. It takes time for events to get reported as official “facts,” more time for these to get accumulated into reports, and more time still for these to pass up the hierarchy until they finally reach the top manager’s desk. In the perfectly stable environment, he can perhaps wait; in a changing one, he cannot. A military commander wants to know about the enemy’s movements as they are taking place, not later, when they are reflected in some official measure like casualties in a battle. Likewise, the corporate president wants to be told that his most important customer was seen playing golf yesterday with his major com- petitor; he does not want to find out about it six months later in the form of a negative variance on a sales report. Gossip, hearsay, speculation—the softest kinds of information—warn the manager of impending problems; the MIS all too often records for posterity that these problems have long since arrived. Moreover, a good deal of important information never even gets into the MIS. The mood in the factory, the conflict between two managers, the reasons for a lost sale—this kind of rich information never becomes the kind of fact that the traditional MIS can handle. So the infor- mation of the MIS, by the time it reaches the strategic apex—after being filtered and aggregated through the levels of the administrative hier- archy—is often so bland that the top manager cannot rely on it. In a changing environment, that manager finds himself out of touch.

The obvious solution for the top managers is to bypass the MIS and set up their own informal information systems, ones that can bring them the rich, tangible information they need, quickly and reliably. They are inclined to establish their own networks of contacts and informers, both inside and outside the organization, and expose themselves to as much first-hand information as possible. But getting such information takes time. And that, of course, was the problem in the first place—the bottleneck at the strategic apex of the Machine Bureaucracy in a changed environment. So a fundamental dilemma faces the top managers of the Machine Bu- reaucracy as a result of the centralization of the structure and the empha- sis on reporting through the chain of authority. In times of change, when they most need to spend time getting the “tangible detail,” they are overburdened with decisions coming up the hierarchy for resolution. They are therefore reduced to acting superficially, with inadequate, ab- stract information.

The essential problem lies in one of the major tenets of the Machine Bureaucracy, that strategy formulation must be sharply differentiated from strategy implementation. The first is the responsibility of top management; the second is to be carried out by everyone else, in hierarchical order. Nowhere in practice is this dichotomy sharper than in the military, with “strategy” focusing on the general direction of armies and “tactics” on the particular deployment of men and materiel. And nowhere are its dangers better illustrated than in the infamous battle of Passchendaele of World War I, where 300,000 British troups went over the trenches to become casualties: “No senior officer from the Operations Branch of the General Headquarters, it was claimed, ever set foot (or eyes) on the Passchendaele battlefield during the four months that battle was in progress. Daily reports on the condition of the battlefield were first ignored, then ordered discon- tinued. Only after the battle did the Army chief of staff learn that he had been directing men to advance through a sea of mud” (Feld, 1959:21).

The formulation-implementation dichotomy presupposes two funda- mental conditions in order to work effectively: that (1) the formulator has full information, or at least information as good as that available to the implementor, and (2) the situation is sufficiently stable or predictable to ensure that there will be no need for reformulation during implementation. The absence of either condition should lead to a collapse of the dichotomy, to proceeding with formulation and implementation concurrently, in an adaptive rather than a planning mode.

The top manager who cannot get the necessary information simply cannot formulate a sensible strategy. The Machine Bureaucracy is designed on the questionable assumption that even in times of change, the MIS will bring the necessary information up to the top of the hierarchy. The condi- tions of the mud are only the most literal example of the inability of the MIS to handle soft information. As Crozier describes it, the problem in these structures is that the power to formulate strategy rests at a different place from the information needed to do so.

The design of the Machine Bureaucracy also assumes that a strategy formulated in one place can later be implemented in another. That is a reasonable assumption under conditions of stability—as long as the world holds still (or at least undergoes predicted changes) while the plan unfolds. Unfortunately, all too often the world refuses to hold still; it insists on changing in unpredictable ways. This imposes the need to adapt, to alter the strategy as it is being implemented. Under such fluid conditions, either the formulator must implement his own strategy so that he can reformulate it en route—which is what happens in the Simple Structure, which faces a simple, dynamic environment—or else the implementors must take responsibility for the formulation and do it adaptively—which is what happens in the Adhocracy, which decentralizes power for strategy making in the face of a complex, dynamic environment.

We emerge from this discussion with two conclusions: First, strat- egies must be formulated outside the machine bureaucratic structure if they are to be realistic. Second, the dichotomy between formulation and implementation ceases to have relevance in times of unpredictable change. Together these conclusions tell us that Machine Bureaucracies are fundamentally nonadaptive structures, ill-suited to changing their strat- egies. But that should come as no surprise. After all, machines are de- signed for special purposes, not general ones. So, too, are Machine Bureaucracies.

These are, as Hunt noted, performance, not problem-solving organi- zations. Strategic diagnosis is simply not part of their repertoire of stan- dard operating procedures. Machine Bureaucracies work best in stable environments because they have been designed for specific, predeter- mined missions. Efficiency is their forte, not innovation. An organization cannot put blinders on its personnel and then expect peripheral vision. The managers of the Machine Bureaucracy are rewarded for improving operat- ing efficiency, reducing costs, finding better controls and standards; not for taking risks, testing new behaviors, encouraging innovation. Change makes a mess of the standard operating procedures. In the Machine Bu- reaucracy, everything is nicely coupled, carefully coordinated. Change a link, and the whole operating chain must be redesigned; change an ele- ment in an integrated strategy, and it disintegrates.

Thus, steel companies and post offices are not noted innovators, and the automobile of today is hardly different from that of Henry Ford’s day. (Compare the generations of computers or airplanes of the last thirty years—products of very different structures, as we shall see—with the automobiles of the last fifty.)

When Machine Bureaucracies must change their strategies in impor- tant rather than cosmetic ways, their top managers tend to act idiosyncrat- ically; they are not in the habit of making such changes, their MISs have obscured the kind of change that is needed, and their structures are ill- suited to receiving whatever change is eventually proposed. The top man- agers seem to succeed only when they are strong enough to cast aside their bureaucratic information and control systems and take matters into their own hands. In other words, ironically, the top managers succeed in chang- ing the Machine Bureaucracy only by reverting temporarily to the leaner, more flexible Simple Structure.

To conclude, the Machine Bureaucracy is an inflexible configuration. As a machine, it is designed for one purpose only. It is efficient in its own limited domain but cannot easily adapt itself to any other. Above all, it cannot tolerate an environment that is either dynamic or complex. Nev- ertheless, the Machine Bureaucracy remains a dominant configuration— probably the dominant one in our specialized societies. As long as we demand standardized, inexpensive goods and services, and as long as people remain more efficient than automated machines at providing them—and remain willing to do so—the Machine Bureaucracy, with all its problems, will be with us.

Source: Mintzberg Henry (1992), Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations, Pearson; 1st edition.

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