Beyond Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is a modern societal illness, described early on by Max Weber. Its pernicious effect is dehumanization. Yes, it can enhance efficiency—in mechanical systems. For complex systems, it is constrictive and counterproductive. Yet it’s crept into every aspect of our organizational ethos—so much so that we feel we’ve gone off course when the prison alarms sound, just because we’ve finally blasted a hole in bureaucracy’s prison gates!

When you write a job description, that’s bureaucracy. Why? Because your objective is not to hire the best person, but to hire the candidate whose skill-set fits best with your criteria. However, we don’t interact with our fellow skill-sets, but with real, multi-dimensional people—or at least we should.

But, without job descriptions, wouldn’t all be chaos? Certainly the alternative has its own set of challenges (though it’s also far more rewarding), both for employees and organizations. Simply put, instead of detailed responsibilities for each particular role, you describe the type of work your department or organization does. In selecting the best candidate, you look at the whole person. Creative, well-rounded people can be trained into unfamiliar roles. You can also reconfigure the roles that colleagues play in order to maximize each person’s strengths (and level of fulfillment).

If you’re in a family, and a new baby is born, the whole system changes. That baby requires a great deal of initial investment. But the growing child then contributes to the family in many (often unexpected) ways. These ways change with each new stage of development. Bureaucracy eschews the unexpected and strangles innovation.

But workplaces have to be efficient, and families aren’t efficient at all—right? If not, it’s curious that cultural evolution has favored their development, and that of the tribe. Families and tribes aren’t generally in the habit of firing people—at least not healthy families and tribes. But they do enculturate people, help them to grow and learn, and guide them toward activities and behaviors that enhance the common good while being personally rewarding.

The problem with bureaucracy is that it’s a mechanistic model sprung from a mechanistic age. But complex systems are in a continual process of self-organization. The appropriate arrangements amongst members at one stage of development aren’t the best ones for a later stage. Bureaucracies consider members to be static building blocks that should always be arranged in a certain way. But static roles, ensconced within a frozen organizational framework, will always produce the same result. But the same won’t work, because people (and organizations) grow and change—which should be a good thing! Bureaucracy may be effective for awhile, but it’s hardly adaptive.

And complex systems must adapt. They must breathe organically. They must be alive and present in the moment. Does that sound like your workplace? Does it sound like a place where you (and others) would enjoy working? If that’s what you’re after, I’ll help you get there. Not just because your organization will be a better place in which to work, but because it will also be more successful—and, dare I say it?—more effective at actualizing its potential.

The example of job descriptions, given above, simply illustrates a more general point. Once you start looking at your organization as a complex system, you’ll find bureaucratic troglodytes (mechanistic paradigms) lurking under every stone. The good thing is that they’re quite happy to be liberated. Still, changing systems overnight is rarely a good idea—it leads to the chaotic aspect of Shiva.

I can help you pursue a path of organizational change that moves at the right pace and in the right direction (towards your organizational τέλος). To SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULTATION, at which we will discuss how I might best serve your needs, go to Contact and call and/or email.

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