“A camel is a horse designed by a committee,” so the saying goes.
And while we’ve all suffered through too many committee meetings, we know that most of the time, collaboration is a good thing, producing a better product and speedier results.
But not always. Sometimes, a corporate culture that values collaboration can, overtime, evolve into a cumbersome, process-bound monster that devours innovation and crushes entrepreneurial spirit.
Are you confident that you know whether your organization is producing camels or horses?
Right now, it’s especially important that you do. Social media, advanced video conference technology and other online tools are taking the culture of collaboration – which took root in the 1980s as American companies emulated Japan’s “quality circles” – to a whole new level. On top of that, at a time of economic uncertainly, many middle managers in large organizations are especially insecure about their jobs, and may be inserting themselves unnecessarily into projects in ways that don’t add value, slow them down, and prevent the company from acting rapidly even when it is essential.
How can you tell whether your organization has a little too much togetherness?
• Take a look at the output of your creative efforts. Are you producing horses or camels? If what comes out of projects consistently looks different from what you expected, it’s a red flag.
• Do documents that should flow instead read like they were written in multiple styles by lots of different people? It’s probably because they were. Every document needs an editor, but not every document needs 10 reviewers. “Track changes” makes meddling too easy, and you may need to tell people to resist the temptation.
• Are you experiencing mission creep? Do projects lose their focus and broaden their scope over time? Involving too many people with too many different agendas may be a reason.
• Take a look at lengthy distribution lists for your emails, conference calls, and meetings. Do you really need all those people to be involved? Will each add net value?
• Are you dissatisfied with the flow of new ideas or with the amount of initiative you see among your people? If so, consider whether they have just become discouraged by the bureaucracy that smothers their initiative. Ask the most creative people in the company what they think about this.
Camels have their place. But most businesses today need to produce thoroughbreds to stay competitive. Make sure yours is one of them.