For nearly 100 years, sociologists have deferred to the work of Max Weber as the cornerstone of organizational research. At the turn of the 19th Century, Weber watched the Industrial Revolution usher in a new type of organization that he refered to as the bureaucracy. In his studies of organizations, Weber (1946) created the ideal type of bureaucracy as a model of comparison for these new organizations. His findings and assumptions on bureaucracies are taught in sociology classrooms from Harvard to Hastings still today.
However, recent technological changes may quickly be eroding the Weber foundation on organizational theory. Communication is, and always has been, integral to organizational form. As technology dramatically alters how we communicate, it is ushering in new forms of organizations.
Communication today is much faster and comparatively less expensive than in Weber’s day. With the ability to transmit voice, text, images, videos, data, graphics and more, the breadth of communication today is also much greater. Individuals and organizations are vastly more connected because of these changes in communication. Information has become a shared resource making human and organizational knowledge exponentially greater.
These new, technologically driven organizations are more decentralized and flexible. Their hierarchies are flatter and more fluid with less middle management. Workflow is less physical and more collective. Relationships are less structured and more equitable. They are no longer tied to common workspace. Tangible goods are replaced by service or information making it difficult to distinguish product from process. Groups within the organization share an increased dialogue. (Faulk, J. & DeSanctis, G. 1995. Electronic Communication and Changing Organizational Forms. Organizational Science 4, 337 – 349.)
When put up against the characteristics of Weber’s model, these new organizations are causing sociologists to reconsider their assumptions and definitions toward organizations. In addition to everything else that technology has provided us, is it also bringing an end to bureacracy?