Lately, I’ve been thinking about some of the things that can get in the way of creating organizational environments where people work together in more fluent, less territorial ways and toward a common purpose.
Of course, there are numerous activities that do that, but these three things stand out for me:
So many organizations become bogged down with rules and practices that border on the nonsensical and serve only to distract, or worse, obstruct people from achieving their primary purpose.
A long time ago, I had a boss who was the designated Manager of a large department in an even larger financial institution. His office was in the corner. He was provided with a laminated desk & credenza; a desk chair upholstered in tweed fabric; two orange visitors’ chairs and one rather puny plant.
As time passed, this Manager, having performed exceptionally well, was promoted to Assistant General Manager of the entire region. His office remained on the same floor and in the same corner. However on returning to work after the weekend he discovered a change in his décor.
The orange furniture had been replaced by a fine wooden desk and credenza; a black leather ergonomically designed chair; a small sofa and coffee table; two comfy visitor chairs generously upholstered and appointed; and two small but lush, palm trees.
Apparently, the new furniture went with the new title. Fair enough.
However, this manager having become used to his new surroundings, went home one evening and returned the following day to be greeted, not by his new ergonomically designed black leather chair and accompanying accoutrements but, by all of his old furniture, including the rather puny plant.
On making enquiries, this newly promoted Assistant General Manager was advised that someone had made a mistake. The rules for office furnishings allowed him the ‘privilege’ of the more splendid furniture only if he had been appointed a Vice-President. And so, overnight, they had taken the new furniture back to the warehouse and replaced it with the old.
This may or may not be a unique story but I suspect there are numerous stories in the Naked City that will attest to the fact that sometimes organizations will go too far in their administrative practices and serve only to waste time and money becoming obsessed with activities that do not serve the purpose of the organization or the people who work in it.
Back Office Blues
Having said that, one unfortunate outcome of bureaucratic absurdity is that it can do a great disservice to those in support roles who make valuable contributions to the organizational work. There is a tendency to discount this work because it is viewed, by some, as being less important and the people who produce it, as little more than overhead. Even the title back office (a commonly used term) seems somehow disparaging. So, instead of building partnerships between those whose roles require direct contact with clients and prospective clients, and those who provide needed resources and support, we build walls and moats. And we waste our time throwing missiles of blame from one place to the other when things don’t come together as smoothly as we think they should.
The bottom line is that while bureaucratic absurdity exists it should not be confused with valuable support services. These are the services that build the stage on which the players who connect directly with the client can perform. Communication, respect and understanding between those in support roles and those with direct client contact is really a business imperative. After all, if the stage is not solid and the systems that make it work, faulty, the quality of the end product is often less than ideal.
Rock Stars and Prima Donnas
It is always great to see people who excel in their jobs and love doing them. There is something special and even catching about it as we watch them perform their magic. Those of us who are learning the ropes often look to these folks as role models. And that can only be a good thing.
We can run into a spot of bother though when some of these really clever people rise so high they begin to believe they have nothing left to learn. And then that old bugaboo, hubris tends to kick in. They forget whom they are there to serve and begin to serve themselves.
The problem often gets worse when their bosses fail to notice that these rock stars and prima donnas are becoming a problem. And even worse, they recognize the problem but are loathe to upset the apple cart because these folks are making so much money for the organization.
Eventually, things begin to break down. They do so because while the rock stars and prima donnas are busy serving their own interests (and while their bosses are doing whatever it takes to keep them), they are all losing their focus on the larger goals of the organization and the rest of people who work in it.
In my mind, true rock stars not only excel in their own jobs, they take up the reigns of leadership and demonstrate a commitment to the organization by remaining loyal to its larger purpose; setting positive examples for others and; being a conscious part of the organizational effort to create more stars in the corporate galaxy who will do the same.
For me, creating fluency means building and operating systems that are unimpeded by interests that do not serve the raison d’être of the organization. It is so easy to plug up the flow of authentic activity with non-essential or self-serving work. And sadly, just as easy to reward bad behaviour when it becomes expedient to do so.
What do you think? If you recognize these impediments, or others like them, in your organization, what would it take to eliminate them? How would you go about it?
If you are happy with your organizational “flow”, how did you accomplish it? What did you have to change or give up?
How do you go about recognizing or identifying when an activity is not contributing to the flow of your organization?