A century ago, there were few cars on the road and few accidents. Avoiding collisions was up to each driver’s skill. Roads weren’t marked, there were no stop signs at intersections, no traffic lights and certainly no flyovers.
Today, we know that no matter how much you train drivers, teach them courtesy and respect for weaker road users (like motorcyclists and cyclists,) accidents will happen. We’ve learnt that the best way to reduce accidents is by shaping the roads so that the traffic flows smoothly, with few places for traffic flows to clash with each other.
So we have a range of road designs for intersections. Where there is almost no traffic we rely on the driver and have an uncontrolled intersection. With light traffic, we begin to rely on the road to prevent accidents, putting in stop signs, traffic lights, or a traffic circle. The traffic circle is ideal for medium flow, it keeps traffic flowing with minimum abrupt stopping and starting. For heavy congestion, fast traffic, we build flyovers.
We are beginning to learn that the same is true in business. Business is about keeping people flowing without crashing.
Flows of communication, of each contributing their skill to the work and passing it on to the next. In other words, the flow of reciprocal helping, that Edgar Schein writes about. The ‘traffic’ accidents of workflow happen when egos crash into each other. Usually, reducing damage to the business and each other when these accidents happen is left to the individual. Like road traffic a century ago.
But, we are learning. We’re learning that designing “roads” for our communication and collaboration to flow along is a far more effective way of reducing accidents. Accidents which stop our interaction flow when working with each other, or that stop our personal inner flow of being in our peak productivity.
These roads are all about using structured ways of talking to each other. With traffic lights and flyovers! They feel unnatural, and constrain us in our freedom, just like a freeway system constrains us in our freedom to stop, reverse or turnaround however we want to. But, the huge payoff for this constraint to freedom is significantly better business results as well as increased individual happiness at work.
How much longer are you going to tolerate a high collision rate in the workflow in your company? Because you are relying on the individual drivers of the work to avoid harmful collisions with each other?
How much longer are you going to waste resources? Because you haven’t built the roads for your work to flow in ways that are designed to reduce harmful collisions in the interaction between people?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Flow” has described how human beings are at their most productive when they are in maximum inner flow.
He’s made very clear that maximum productivity from an individual comes from maximum flow in the individual. Maximum flow is achieved when the individual has “conditions”, that enable flow. It does not come from the individual’s willpower, nor from something that can be taught to them.
Rather, it comes when the task that the individual is doing, the support from the environment that they’re doing the tasks in, and naturally motivating kinds of activities all come together. In other words, any manager that wants his or her people to be maximally productive, ought to spend most of their time making sure that each individual has the environment that enables them to be in their own personal optimum environment for flow. The manager is responsible for designing and building the “roads” that the individuals work flows along. The manager is responsible for ensuring that these roads maximise, uniquely, each individual’s flow. This means each individual needs a unique road design, tuned to their flow.
The challenge for top managers is that they also need to design and build their own roads and those for their staff.
Fortunately there are now many tools available to do that easily. You can get them from companies like Dojo4Life, edge, IDM, HolacracyOne, Talent Dynamics, Minds at Work and many more; and by reading the books of people like Frederic Laloux.
This idea of flow within and between individuals to increase productivity covers more about the topic in this earlier blog: http://graham-boyd.biz/blog/ive-been-sabotaging-your-work-lets-talk/.