The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

Tech can certainly help, but the org structure and (exec) management engagement can easily make a big difference

By Oscar Buijten on March 26, 2022
I see bureaucracy in my organization in... 

What I notice is that many people spontaniously create bureaucratie as they are scared to take the smallest piece of risk and say; "No. That doesn't work, You can't do that". So even though there is no formal approval required, people tend to believe that there is. This counts for both the proposer of an initiative as well as the one getting the proposal.

Bureaucracy makes my job harder or easier by... 

So often the "nay sayers" make things hard. This has much to do with the culture in the organization. If you have management (and in preference Executive Mgt), promote, push and evangelize risk taking you can already get a lot of autonomy and creativity back into your org.

Individual initiatives can provoke this quite easily as well I discovred a while back when I simply informed my manager that I would stop asking questions and just do the right thing for the company, team and myself until I was told to stop. Even on the statement I made I got silence :-) Wow! What a life changer in my job! I have never been more productive and creative since I did that.

So tech can certainly help, but the org culture, its structure and (exec) management engagement can easily make a big difference by encouriging people to simply reject some of the, what I would call "imaginary bureaucratie".

So let me ask a question and please excuse me for my ignorance...
What exactly do we expect Tech to resolve? Less approval processes? Easier approval processes? Or is tech just the reflection of the issue (as the approval processes all seem to be pretty sofisticated)?
Maybe we should have less of technology and more trust (in ourseleves, our subordinates and peers)?

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chris-grams's picture

Oscar-- this is a fantastic observation! I've never really thought about it this way before, but the term imaginary bureaucracy is a compelling way of describing this odd--but common--situation. People are so used to being held back by REAL bureaucracy that they continue to see it--even when it isn't there. A bureaucracy mirage, if you will:)

And I agree with you that the way to make the mirage disappear starts with changing the culture.

As for your question about technology, one of the things many of us who have been part of the MIX for some time believe is that the culture change that the Internet and other technological advances have led to over the past few years/decades has not yet been fully replicated in the culture of our organizations.

So where technology itself (e.g. tools) may not be able to change culture by themselves, what they can often help with is beginning/easing the process of cultural change by making it easier for organizations to embrace the cultural norms of the new technology landscape, e.g. openness, collaboration, meritocracy of ideas, rapid prototyping, flattened hierarchies, less top down management, etc. These concepts are often "baked in" to new technologies in ways that can bring the organization forward with them.

In some organizations, this sort of cultural change is embraced, in some organizations the cultural change happens--but kicking and screaming, and in others it is fought off like a virus. In the 2nd and 3rd cases, it often takes strong support from top leadership for change to be successful. But where there is a will, there is a way. Technology can't do the hard work by itself, but it can be a powerful enabler with the right human support.

Thanks for your feedback Chris. I appreciate it :-)

Within the org that I live, I guess we're up to speed with the tools, unless I missed something magical, which might be the reason I was asking about them.
There's loads of them in terms of collaboration and communication in our org. They each have their limits and advantages I guess, and of course we could be better in some aspects.
I do agree with you that these tools can be great enablers for creativity and other discussion items to cut short on traditional hierarchy and to ensure that the global team stay’s in contact conveniently.

Never the the end of the day it is all (or at least a lot of it) about a mindset.
Think about this analogy: you parked your car for “just a few minutes” and omitted to pay for it. You come back and you see you are being fined and the paperwork is already torn-off of the booklet and on to your car.
You happen to have a great smile, nice talk and make a friendly joke. You already have a chance that the bureaucracy will be made flexible. If on top of it you would know the person it might help even more.
Most of us either lived this type of situation or could easily come up with something similar.
The only conclusion I can make out of this example (and please feel free to find me a few others  ) is that the relationship with the people from the process, authorization, stamp etc. is what can and will make a difference.
Is the person ready to go the extra mile *for you* ?

So there thing where the tools can help is the networking and the relationship building. How easy is it to find a person and communicate with that person (create a relationship) before you even need their rubber stamp.
As in the outside org “real world” I would find it hard to identify a single solution. Essentially we use a host of applications that do twitter, facebook and skype like things plus good old-fashioned discussion forums.

If you then go like: ok great, we now have a bunch of tools, so what? The answer is; this allows the innovators and early adopters to use them (please get some execs involved here ) and push that culture change forward. Not easy. It will take a couple of years…

Hope it helps.