Archetypes of bureaucracy

In recent research I wrote about 3 archetypes of bureaucracy, based on research on entrepreneurship in Brazil. Brazil provided an interesting context for this research as the business environment exhibits some extreme cases of bureaucracy.

The 3 archetypes I arrived at, based on previous work by organizational theorists were: productive, unproductive and destructive.

Productive bureaucracy is generally well designed and serves to benefit all parties in the bureaucratic process. It exhibits, the correct balance of incentives, co-operation, trust and co-ordination. Unproductive bureaucracy is generally that which is ill-designed and simply put, creates unnecessary problems for one of the parties in the bureaucratic process. This might be a government agency which becomes swamped with paperwork or an individual who cannot easily adhere to the process due to lack of information or lack of available documentation. The third archetype is destructive bureaucracy, which is ironically usually created by design with the goal of maintaining power. Many government agencies or internal corporate bureaucratic processes become intentionally or unintentionally designed this way to allow one party to maintain it's power over the other. By design these processes often do not make sense to an outside observer and are overly complex .

I am in the process of developing this model further, please contact me if you are interested in discussing this topic further. In particular it would be interesting to investigate how these archetypes impact the adoption of technology.


  1. Today the security guard at the company I am working with asked "me" if I was a unaccompanied visitor or a normal visitor. I said I was the former. He proceeded to give me full access to the entire building. This is an example of how bureaucratic process is not well designed (unproductive or destructive) with too much power in the hands of the untrained (this occurred within the context of a number of processes and training courses I had to go on to be allowed into the building). If you have any other examples please feel free to post them here, I would love to hear from you ...


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