May 17, 2003

Dysfunctional Organizational Behaviors

I've commented about "Drain Circling" before as a severe form of organizational malaise. What I did not do was mention the labels I have given over the years to various symptoms of organizational dysfunction. While not all of these mean imminent death of the company, in combination they can lead to serious problems and eventual corporate death spiral, aka drain circling.

Massive numbers of meetings for everyone, even individual contributors. When it gets really bad, the meetings involve assigning conflicting priorities and more work than there are manpower resources. If your production, front line, or engineering staff attends more than two hours of meetings per week, your company suffers from meetingitis. Meetings are themselves a drain on resources, and excessive meetings are a sign of mismanagement, poor communication, and senseless waste of resources. If you are an individual contributor and find yourself in meeting after meeting every week, and your due dates aren't shifted to allow for it, you could be headed for burnout. Do something about it, for your own sake.

Mushroom Syndrome
The systematic practice of keeping employees in the dark about what really is happening, even in their own group, and cutting people off if they mention problems. The business is conducted as though everything was on a "top security", "burn before reading", "need to know" basis. When you get the feeling that the company's right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, you are a mushroom. For a description of this at its ultimate perversity, see "The Mushroom Song" by Stephen Savitzky (See also Built on Baloney) If you are uncomfortable in a secrecy driven orgaization, and find yourself in a company with a severe case of this, send out resumes.

VooDoo Finance
When your average college educated individual can not understand the company's high level financial briefings. When Gross Income, Expenses, Net Income, Taxes and Profits give way to arcane terms like EBITDA, Pre-Tax Profit, and other financial shell game terms, your company is suffering from VooDoo Finance. If it's a public company, sell any stock you have. If it's a startup, don't bother to exercise your options yet. If you are in finance, seek another job, and keep a good paper trail.

Establishment of hard boundaries and rigid separation between departments or groups. Often this involves resource disputes, power hoarding, rigid heirarchies, highly disfunctional communication modes, and a lot of politics. It can get to the point of a nearly feudal system, where supervisors are like barons, managers are like dukes, VPs are like Princes. All ranks are often engaged in subtle cold wars for power and favor in the eyes of their superiors. Unless you are one of the in-crowd at a company like this, be prepared to bail without a reference when you get caught in a political crossfire, and have the failings of everyone blamed on you.

Work To Rule Rules
"Work to Rule" used to be a subtle form of union protest: doing only what was in the contracted job description, and not one iota more. Now it has become "stay absolutely within your own job description only, or else". When this type of behavior is not only expected, but demanded, by management, it is a problem in the organization. It severely hinders any creative synergy, and wastes the crossover potential of their employees, many of whom really do knoiw more than one narrow little job area. It often means that management is afraid of the observations and experience that people bring in from other jobs, has something to hide, or has a severe need for absolute control. If your management is like this, you may want to seek a change of environment, either within the same company, or elsewhere.

Revolving Door
This one can be subtle, or blatant. Subtle is when you have just a couple percent of the employees leaving every week, either due to burnout, firing, or "greener" pastures. Blatant is when you have round after round of "reorganization" and layoff. At base, this is high turnover, without being a typically high turnover environment due low wages, bad conditions, or low skills requirements. Example: having the turnover of a fast food restaurant in an engineering organization. If you find your self working for this type of organization, keep your network up to date and your resume circulating.

Built on Baloney
This is, essentially, an organization that practices deceit (or distortion of facts), on a systematic basis, of its customers, its shareholders, and/or its employees. Eventually this will blow up when the purveyors of the untruths fail to coordinate their stories well enough, or can't keep the rumor mill from spreading the numerous versions. If you find yourself working for a company like this, always cash your paychecks promptly.

Posted by ljl at May 17, 2003 12:6 PM | TrackBack

As good a taxonomy of orginizational insanity as
I've seen. This stuff looks meaty enough for a
book. Think Tim would publish it? (.5 8)

Posted by: Howard on May 2002, 2003 3:2008 PM

*giggle* Some day, I may have to, at least in e-book form.

Posted by: ljl on May 2002, 2003 1:1 PM
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