I’ve been pondering the lack of fun in the dysfunctionality of bureaucracies, educational institutions, government agencies, and toxic work environments. Besides the fact that they’re laden with more control freaks and incompetent sociopaths than Wall Street, what is it that makes these organizations so dysfunctional? What are they missing that healthy organizations possess?
The answer was right at the kitchen table.
Imagine a healthy organization as an ordinary kitchen table with four strong legs to hold it up. Each table represents a vital pillar in the organization that provides support.
The First Leg: People
People are the prime movers of the organization. When you have creative, positive, and forward-thinking folks running along with you, work can be exhilarating, especially if they’ve got a good sense of humor and work hard. Who wants to spend an entire day with a bunch of eeyores or lazy drama queens? According to Gallup workplace consultant and bestselling author Tom Rath, people who have a “best friend at work” are seven times likely to be engaged at their jobs. In my experience, you don’t need a BFF at your job, but having several peeps who you consider “work friends” really makes the day more fun.
There’s an old saying–“Systems work, people fail.” That may be true to some extent. Systems can’t work without people unless you are running some fully-automated robo factory. Even there you’d have a human somewhere behind the scenes.
The Second Leg: System- If you have great people, without a well-oiled system, the table will fall just like Humpty Dumpty. Or if you have one that’s too complicated with layers of inefficient bureaucracy with perilous paperwork, the organization will just get more and more sluggish and inefficient. People will become
A clear, simple system is the best. Doh. Now for you erudite smarty parties out there- simple does not mean EASY. It means that the path is clear and the purpose is obvious. Hidden agendas, bullying, crappy customer service, and secret alliances have no place in a smooth-running system.
The Third Leg: Heart Sadly, in today’s quest for hyperefficiency, some lean and mean companies have thrown heart out. Heart is something that’s unmeasurable, even on hypercomplex teacher evaluations. It’s the soul of the organization. It’s the coworker who calls you when you’ve been out a few days with a sick child to find out how you’re doing. It’s when a coworker brings you coffee from Maui after he came back from vacation. Or a supervisor who hands out flowers to her team, “just because.” It’s people putting enthusiasm and ethos into their jobs, whether they clean toilets or oversee a ginormous international airplane development project.
It’s the feeling, the vibe you get when you walk into an office that tells you if it’s a happy place or needs to be rid of bad juju. How can you quantify that?
The Fourth Leg: Moat
The Moat is an organization’s security system, or limits and boundaries. If you have an organization with fabulous people with heart, a super system, but have no healthy boundaries, then you will be eaten alive by alligators. Lazy takers will come to you and demand more and more. You will burn out and fly out the door like dead leaves in autumn if you don’t set up a healthy Moat.
Friends settle disputes at the table, sisters comfort one another after a breakup, children eat grilled cheese at the table- everyone centers around the table- it’s the hub-bub of the home and a healthy workplace. We each have more one or the other, but a solid organization needs every single table leg to hold it up. Without it, ugly organizational entropy ensues in a humpty-dumpty splat.