Analyse systémique

Bureaucracy Model

(for French, click on the flag)

Our goal, here, is to use a model to present easily how works a bureaucracy and to show its dysfunctions.
Interest of the method is that it could present any kind of organization (whatever it could be) with just one type of pattern.

Summary :

  1. Elementary Model Definition :
  2. 3 Levels Model:
    Level n°1 : System facing its environment
    Level n°2 : Staff & Line
    Level n°3 : The hierarchy facing the underlings
  3. Bureaucracy's dysfunction analysis
    Level n°1 : Strategy
    Level n°2 : Tactics
    Level n°3 : Realization
    Use of behavior rules imposed to employees
    Use of working rules imposed to workers
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1/ Elementary Model Definition:

To clarify our vocabulary, we define the following terms:
" Actor "(noted "A ") a subject who can be actor, observant as well as witness in a system or "acted " by the system, tossed by its environment. The term " Actor " emphasizes the subject's will, whatever could be the type of action undertaken by him: actions or / and observations, active or / and passive,
"System "(noted" S ") is the Actor's vision of the environment in which he evolves, his anthropocentric description of the World.
The representation of a system is a "Model "created for needs of an "Observant". It can arrive that this "Observant " is the "Actor " engaged in the System observed.

To define the game of the "Actor " facing the "System", we assimilate each antagonist to a player.
In any game, each player tries to maximize its gain hope and to minimize its loss risk (minimax rule) .

The theory of games schematizes this face to face situation by a matrix gains and losses matrix :

    "S" losses
"A" gains a1

Each player is represented by the totality of states on which he can be. In our example, A can take n and S p different states.

We define in extension A and S by the totality of states that they are able to take.

A = (a1,....,ap) the totality of actions retained by the Actor,
S = (s1,....,sn) the totality of states of his relevant Environment, his target.
The gain gji is acquired only after realization of both the action and the reaction, that we call "transaction ".

In the precedent matrix the progress of the transaction itself is not really shown.
But we research on the contrary a model that puts directly the accent on the progress of the transaction and non on the result (the gain).

It is precisely the object of our model

When the Actor A make a choice, to global transaction between A and S, including action and reaction, can be described by the following diagram:

  1. Choose of A : A==> ai
  2. Action from A : ai ==> S
  3. Choose of S : S ==> sj
  4. Reaction from S: sj ==> A

A and S have formally the same status, so the reply of A to a solicitation of his environment would follow the same diagram.

Thereafter, we will adopt the here above terminology:

A, S, ai & sj are called "poles" of the system.
(A, ai) & (S, sj) are called "dipoles" of the system
The model itself, describing the transactions between dipoles is called "senaire".

It is possible to use our senaire in all cases of the theory of games.

For our purpose, retain simply that the game opposing A & S can necessitate non an alone, but a series of transactions.
This series can be statistically determined, as in the case of "mixed" strategies, or destined to test reactions of the adversary, as in the case of cooperative games.
Beyond this is a possible strategy of learning by "tests and errors".


2/ 3 Levels Models :

When we are studying a great organization, one of the first thing evident is the interdependency between processes occurring at different time horizons.
The simplest organization uses 3 levels at least :
Level n°1 : System facing its environment
Level n°2 : Staff & Line,
Represents the highest authority, how defines the politics guide lines. It could be the General Manager, the Board of a Company, a Ministry Staff, an Army Staff and so on.
The hierarchical line is in charge to execute the politics defined by the Staff.
Level n°3 : The hierarchy facing the underlings.

(Remark: this 3 levels model can quite easily be seen as a Chinese's hexagram. Refer to my page I Ching)

We can see the aperture of the system at both ends of the model.

At the upper level, the model is finished, but not the existing system, immerged in more complex structures (the market, or the Nation etc...).
At the lowest level, we just consider workers as part of the organization, but in fact, their activity within an organization is just a part of their life. They receive money for their job, but this money is used for objective out of our scope.
At Level n°1, the work transmitted from the bottom to the top takes a meaning for the organization in its entirety.
At Level n°3, the organization takes its energy from the environment (this is the work done by the employees).

Level n°1 :

This field of activity is, what Sun Tzu called the field of "life and death", the battle field where the surviving of the whole organization is in play.
Let us present the activity of a Company, facing its clients :

  1. The Staff defines a Commercial policy
  2. The Line applies staff's decision and faces the clients
  3. The clients impact on the organization image, its level of activity etc...
  4. Following environment's appreciation of the Company, price of shares goes up or down etc...

Level n°2 :

Each of the 2 previous poles (Staff and Line) is split in two parts :
The Staff has not only to define the strategy, but controls the results.
The hierarchical Line is divided between those who organize the action (the management), and those who operate effectively (underlings).

  1. Staff defines strategy for the Managers
  2. Managers lead the operational teams
  3. Operational team's results are controlled
  4. The Staff react when the result diverge from the forecasts.

Level n°3 :

At that level, the hierarchy is facing the underlings in the day to day work. There, the Company has to win its battle to survive.
The Management :
gives order to the underlings,
in return, the management needs a result.
The underlings :
Obey to the orders,
in return, they have to receive a remuneration.
In order to distinguish the two different states of the underlings we will use two different terms :
We will use the term "worker" in its etymologic sense : one people who "works"
We will use the term "employee" to speak about the social status of a underling.
Status defined, in the case of a Company, by a contract between the Company and the worker, and also by the laws of the country etc...
As defined here above, every one within a Company is at the same time "worker" because he gives something to the Company and "employee" because he receives a contribution as a counterpart.

  1. Organization of the work, as per the tactic defined by the Management
  2. Orders given to the workers
  3. Request for a counter part for the work done.
  4. Feed back : the social status obtained by the employees, limits the power of the hierarchy upon the workers.


3/Bureaucracy's dysfunction analysis :

Our analysis follows the work of Marsh & Simon (Economy Nobel) exposed in "Organizations".
To understand what is a bureaucracy, let us see what could be the reaction of a Company when it received a perturbation receives from its environment, at the level n°1.

Level n°1 :

Let us imagine that the company under observation receives a bad feed back from its environment : clients are unhappy with their produces, and give a bad image of the company within its environment.
The classical answer of a bureaucracy, facing this type of problem is to reinforce the internal control upon the line (management and underlining). The staff reacts by mean of new impersonal rules imposed to every one.
Instead of defining a new line of management, and objectives to guide the action of the management, the staff want to rule directly the organization in the whole.
Doing this, the management is bypassed by the people in charge of the control.

  1. The Staff defines the rules of behavior
  2. The Line (Management & Underlining) conform their behavior to Staff's request in their relation with Clients
  3. As the Client don't see any change in the Company attitude, they reinforce the image of the Company within the Environment
  4. The Environment reinforces its feed back on the Staff ...

This is a vicious circle, because each gap between the market's answer and the staff's expectation reinforces the staff attitude and increases the variation.
The bureaucracy has a natural tendency to become heavier in response to their difficulties.
We will see now at the lower levels, why a policy defined in terms of formal means instead of objectives lead dysfunctions.

Level n°2 :

The efficient and natural sequence of actions would be :

Staff -----> Management -----> Underlining -----> Control -----> staff

In the present case, the rules defined at the upper level apply directly to individuals, without any mediation from the middle management.

  1. The Staff define the rules of behavior
  2. The Underlining apply the rules and send their work to Management
  3. The Management is controlled
  4. The Control refers to Staff who reinforces the behavior rules

It is obvious that the position of the Management is very uncomfortable. His action is controlled, while he has no means of action !
To break this situation, the Management can :
imitate the Staff behavior : they add their proper rules to the Staff ones
follow the Underlining and just act accordingly with the general rules : they act as Underlining, and they become part of them.
Saying that Management looks for escaping from this situation by the top or the lower level, means that this second level is not stable.
In any case, the Management loses his identity.

Level n°3 :

We will see now the day to day situation between the Management and the Underlining in a bureaucracy.
Two case could occur:
Either the Management takes care of the rules governing the way the "Workers" must achieve their work,
Or, the Management takes care of the rules defining the expected behavior of the "Employees".

Use of behavior rules imposed to employees:

The goal is not to follow the result of the individuals' work, but to check their attitude : regularity, manners, looking and general comportment out of the Company's aim.
Taking that way, the Management emphasizes the dysfunction initiated by the Staff.
This attitude could be the sign of two different (but not exclusive) phenomena :
Either the Management want to preserve and use the only kind of authority the Staff let them.
Or, (and this could occur even with an efficient Staff), Management is technically unable to manage underlining, and hide their incompetence by this means.
  1. The Management imposes behavior rules
  2. The Employees play strictly the game, follow the rules,
  3. The Workers follow the behavior rules, even if the work suffer of this obedience.
  4. In reaction, the Management can do nothing, except reinforcing the control of the employee's behavior.

There is a vicious cycle : the rules are more and more strict, but the resulting work is less and less under control.
When the dysfunction becomes too important, the upper level is called to react.
But we have seen that this reaction will not be efficient.

Use of working rules imposed to workers :

In that case, the Management manages (as the Staff does) by means of general rules (and not by objectives), but in the technical field.
Facing this situation, the Underlining can play one type of rules (behavior rules versus working rules) against the other (the Staff against the Line).
If they see any work requirement in contradiction with their employees' status, they will claim and request new advantages ( payment of extra working hours, fees for dusty working conditions, modifications of the work shop to deal with the sanitary rules etc...). The extreme is the strike.
Or, they can conform their behavior to the rules, but make no effort to achieve the work in time. The extreme is a "work to rule strike".

  1. The Management defines very strict working rules and look at a very strict obedience
  2. The Workers act as Employees of the Company
  3. The result returned by the Employees is limited by the behavior rules impose by higher level
  4. Feed back : the Management defines more precise working rules.

In bureaucracy, the vicious circle cannot be broken : a dysfunction leads a new rule which give new dysfunction and so on. Kafka is not so far...


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"System and Actor " from Crozier 1977 aux éditions du Seuil.
This gives us the following paradox :
As included in the observation of the Actor, the description of the System is part of him : S A.
But, on the other hand, as part of the System taken as a whole, A S.
Classical resolution of this paradox is that the Actor, when he realises his description of the System and himself inside (when he built a model of it) is not at the same level as the level he is standing when he is really acting in front of the System.

"Theory of games and economic behaviors" of J. von Neumann & O. Morgenstern, Princeton University Press edition 1953.


"The absolute Structure" Raymond Abellio Editions Gallimard 1970.
Our first idea was to adapt this structure to our needs.
But, the way we use it is very far from to original author intent.
The word "senaire" was done by R. Abellio.
The term means that our model has in fact 6 poles: the 4 ones as defined here, plus 2 others which are not on the same level but connected to the upper and lower levels (we will see it in the diachronic paragraph).

"L'art de la guerre" SUN TZU, en version française aux Editions Flammarion 1978.


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page updated on 02/02/99
author : Alain SIMON
© copyright 1998 Alain SIMON
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