I’m a hacker, and I love to build stuff for the Web.


Bureaucratic Breakdown

Saturday 20th June, 2009

My math teacher, who I admire greatly, showed me a small document he’d written a while ago detailing the first signs of what he called ‘executive complexity’. It’s a list of 8 recognizable symptoms which show that your organization (be it a business, a school or a project) could be dealing with what he referred to as a ‘Bureaucratic Breakdown’:

The Invisible Decision
No-one knows how or where decisions are made (there is no transparency).
Unfinished Business
Too many tasks are started but very few carried through to the end.
Co-ordination Paralysis
Nothing can be done without checking with a host of interconnected units.
Nothing New
There are no radical ideas, inventions or lateral thinking—a general lack of initiative.
Minor issues become magnified out of all proportion.
Embattled Centre
The centre battles for consistency and control against local/regional units.
Negative deadlines
The deadlines for work become more important than the quality of the work being done.
In-tray Domination
Individuals react to inputs—i.e. whatever gets put in their in-tray—as opposed to using their own initiative (the difference between being reactive and proactive).

Overall, the culture becomes less responsive to the environment and less capable of changing or adapting. It appears impressive but is out of touch, and often out of control. These symptoms can accompany a general movement towards the expansion, consistency, conformity, comparability, control and centralization of the organization.

I found it very interesting to read this (I’m reproducing it here almost word-for-word). I’m lucky enough to be working with a fantastic group of people, and we’re very open and honest with each other. For me, reading my teacher’s thoughts on this sort of ‘corporate culture’ gave me something of an insight into the issues which individuals in large organizations have to deal with on a daily basis. The thing that struck me most was that all of these phenomena are emergent—they seem to arise out of a collective will to obey (or lack of will to disobey) the system rather than the behavior and decisions of any single individual.