Much of my time as a consultant is helping teams become high performing.  In the project space this is very easy to achieve because teams have a natural alignment around what they need to achieve, what success looks like and they start fresh without baggage or history.  They are focussed on clear targets and outcomes to deliver for their clients around the project objectives.  However, when you shift from coaching project teams to coaching bureaucracies (not using this word in the negative but in its purest sense) the challenge becomes significantly harder.  The reason for this is that project teams are focused on a clear end game and are focused on an outcome for the customer.  People are more open to being challenged, they are more committed to efficiency, they are customer centric and they measure themselves by results because they are immediate in project reporting and deliverables.

In bureaucracies such as the parent organisation of a consulting company, a large mining company, or a government department it becomes far more challenging to coach teams to be high performing.   What you see in these environments is that people slowly become disconnected from the customer and they become disconnected from delivering and the immediacy of being accountable for results.  As a result more processes, meetings, emails creep in which do not add value to the customer and time, effort and priorities start to shift from what is important to the customer to what is important to staff/ managers within the bureaucracies.  Slowly time and effort shifted from the customer to meeting the security needs of the managers or staff within the bureaucracy.

Organisations shift from trust and empower to manage and control or being the obedient child to ensure we are compliant.  Processes get layered within the business, power struggles form between competing teams, staff are rewarded for complying with organisational process (obedient child syndrome), email traffic increases but is often  directed on internal issues whereby the number of meetings increase.  Over a period of time costs increase along with number of staff employed.

I often refer to this increased time and effort as “doing business with ourselves” as bureaucracies start to spend more time on how they work within the organisation and proportionately less time working with the customer or delivering value to the customer.

To address this,  I spend a significant amount of my time working with teams in bureaucracies to assist them in getting focused back on the customer, and stripping back the amount of time and energy they spend doing business with themselves.  This is a very expensive and slow process in most cases and it makes you realise the importance of organisations maintaining discipline to not allow their internal parts of the business to grow/creep over time as it is very hard to strip back later.  It means teams need to focus more on what we are going to stop rather than what we are going to start or continue.

Unfortunately, as organisations start to do more and more business with themselves, costs increase and customer or increased public value diminishes.  Ultimately your customer is funding this expansion of your internal business and in many cases the customer cannot afford to pay for this expansion or they can afford it but don’t feel they are getting any additional value. As the organisation grows it is serving its own interests and serving the interests of its staff/manager at the expense of its customers.

Eventually the customer will fight back and organisations or teams who have failed to maintain a focus on value to the customer are forced to either change or be changed.  This often comes too late for some organisations who fail to recognise the value of being lean, focussing on their customer and ensuring they question every additional form, meeting or process that does not have a direct benefit back to our customers.