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Bureaucracy gets almost universal condemnation for fostering impersonal mazes that stifle creativity and decision-making while mitigating adaptation in dynamic competitive environments. But understanding different types and functions of bureaucracy can help leaders build a structure that enables performance and growth while serving as substitutes of leadership that guides employee productivity.

In "Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive," Adler and Borys (1996) suggested that the traditional debate between organic versus mechanistic organizations provides a limited caricature of bureaucracy as rigidly authoritarian, and proposed a framework for implementing forms of bureaucracy that foster efficiency without enslaving employees. Adler and Borys reviewed research that suggests both positive and negative views of bureaucracy.

  • The negative view holds that the coercive nature of the bureaucratic organization stifles performance by limiting employee creativity, satisfaction, and motivation.
  • The positive view holds that the enabling nature of bureaucratic organization boosts effectiveness by providing a structure that clarifies roles and responsibilities and processes, aligns employees and processes with organizational goals, and reduces stress.

Adler and Borys proposed a theory that distinguishes between enabling and coercive types of formalization to determine the difference between good and bad procedures that employees experience. Distinguishing between enabling and coercive formalization suggests a typology of organizations for characterizing organizations by type of formalization and degree of formalization [see Figure 1.]. This framework demonstrates how employee outcomes are positive or negative depending on whether formalization helps employees master their jobs or whether formalization helps management to force employee compliance.

  • Positive outcomes occur when organizations have a high or low degree of enabling formalization.
  • Negative outcomes occur with a high or low degree of coercive formalization.

In short, "enabling procedures help committed employees do their jobs more effectively and reinforce their commitment" (85).




Adler, Paul S,  Borys, Bryan. (1996). Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41(1), 61.  Retrieved October 5, 2007, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 9698342).

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