I really got hooked by how Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines bureaucracy:
Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game
He writes about “bureaucracy” but I think it fits “management” perfectly (especially high-level management):
Management is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the c
onsequencesof his or her actions.
Sounds right, doesn’t it?
I see a lot of similarities between the two. In both cases a person makes decisions that influence lives of other peoples but not his own life (obviously, this isn’t a isn’t a zero-one situation as managerial decisions often affect the ones taking them to some extent, but this is how the idea of managing works in general).
So now, what can we do about it? I don’t have a silver bullet but I can share few thoughts with you. Hope it inspires you to find out what could work for you.
On a small scale (e.g. for your team), you can avoid the dangers of bureaucratic decisions by using a simple tool promoted by Management 3.0. It is called a Delegation Board and allows teams and their managers to clearly state the areas of influence of the leader of the team and its members.
Delegation board brings “power to the people” and allows to state explicitly who, and to what extent, has a decisive voice in a specific area. The idea is based on a
- There are various levels of team participation in decision making – from dictatorship, via consultations, to letting people decide.
- People know their limits. If they feel they are not ready yet to fully decide about e.g. who should be hired, they will not ask for such responsibility.
- As the team matures it can decide on more things (without asking any higher-up for it). Ideally, it doesn’t need a manager (a decision-taker) at all.
Of course, this is not a silver bullet and requires a lot of trust and transparency to work.
To fend off the bureaucratic decisions on a bigger scale you need something more. You need to shape your organization so that the right people are involved in making certain decisions. Let us turn towards Sociocracy 3.0 now and focus on one of its seven principles – “Equivalence”.
Equivalence: people affected by decisions can influence them.
No more me vs. you (“I (manager) decide and you (employees) will live the consequences”). It is us (the ones involved in some activity, the ones responsible for a domain) who will take the decision and live with it.
Of course, there are many shades of what “us” means and how the decision process is shaped (so it is both inclusive and efficient), but the general idea is exactly the opposite of the bureaucracy logic: the decision makers are no longer separated from the consequences of their actions.