Early in my career, when I was employed in Microsoft or when I interned in General Electric, I used to wonder how do companies manage to achieve things that are beyond the capabilities of one man or even a small group of people. I was discovering how parts of a turbine engine are designed in one country, manufactured in another and the software which used to run those is built-in completely different offices, all across multiple teams with great diversity yet still works in such synergy - as per the expectation, as per the plan! However, as I clocked years after years of work experience, those awe moments withered. And as I gained insights into the mighty bureaucratic companies especially government ones, I slowly started to see obvious reasons why certain companies are “inefficient”. In this blog, I will put out my ideas on why typical inefficiencies occur and how one can avoid them.
First of all, let me explain what I call
company inefficiency. It’s my way of saying that a team with a group of people despite being perceived as sufficient in numerical strength fail to achieve a planned task within a stipulated amount of time. I am not considering scenarios where adequate staffing or other resources (such as tools, knowledge, etc) are not fulfilled, to begin with, because those are obvious reasons to claim that inefficiencies are bound to occur. I will try to limit myself to points that can be actionable by team leaders or company managers all along with their work. These may be not company-specific but given my experience with the IT industry, it’s not hard to guess the source of this knowledge. As a takeaway, one can also strive to fix these issues that I bring forth by looking out for inefficiencies within their team as a manager or as an aspirational teammate.
1: Lack of Vision
Most companies do not have a vision or do not stick to their vision. A company that makes a hunky-dory vision like eradicate poverty or hunger from the world is anything but an NGO or non-profit. A good company is where ideas and work are constantly anchored to the vision. For example: provide the best video entertainment service in the world or provide the best self-education platform for a given country. The company’s plans and products all emanate from the vision. Its sort of a constitution that all teammates have to live by! If there is no fixed vision to prioritize the work, some charismatic employee may bring up any new idea on a nice Friday afternoon and all the teams are randomly reallocated towards fulfilling that new dream which never sees the light of the day. One or more number of times this happens, and you will realize that the company lives only in ex-employees memories and they can’t even ask for any HR letter because the company won’t exist to have an HR dept.
2: Ignoring Workforce Concerns
Humanity had to struggle to end slavery and all forms of discrimination. The day any employees raise concerns, the company management tries to brush them aside. Jokes about the company’s malpractices and misbehaviour do often get commonly spread over personal chats. Ignoring such concerns are detrimental to any company. One cannot afford to have a ruthless work environment, no smart person can work among injustices. Teams can be as transparent as possible and as vocal about their needs. It’s difficult to work with people and even more difficult to get people to work with each other. If teams go silent about their wishes, it will lead to a culture of silence which leads to burying petty issues that is sure to blow up later.
3: Loose Innovations
It is well known that in the business world, those who do not innovate do die sooner. But it might be surprising that every team thinks they innovate. Any work that has not been done so far by the team can look like innovation to them. It’s important to calibrate the team’s work with external needs. To whom is the team delivering its output? Is there any new competitor on the market? What more could the customer need? What more value can my company’s vision bring to the clients? Teams must seek answers to these questions and share the insights of these discoveries for a faster innovation cycle. Often the innovation is just an existing knowledge put together in a different environment or a different context. Loose innovations which don’t help the team get closer to their vision or lack novelty from the external world don’t help the company much.
4: Lack of precious people
Precious people are those who can bring people together, make the workplace an enjoyable company, support peers or have tons of insight into the work either by experience or by intellect. Teams need to hold on to and expand their pool of precious people. Some teammates get unlucky to stumble upon tasks that are rudimentary and mundane. A culture of automating those tasks should be promoted so that the team can always have sufficient strength of a precious pool of people. Teams must be cautious of losing precious people to either mundane tasks or attrition or overwork. As an HR policy, relieving people can be made more gradual, from 4 week notice period to a 50% working then 20% working model week-by-week can be applied as suitable. There is a big loss of knowledge when a precious employee leaves, the cost of that only appears later! If a critical mass leaves in a quick succession of time, either the team becomes super slow or off-track completely. Freeing people from unprecious work is the key!
5: Threats from new companies
Often I see that new companies achieve far better results than the old school heavyweights of the game. New entrants to the news have far more viewership than news media houses. Companies should constantly evaluate the possible threats to their business, no matter big or small. Threats or startups that are small today may swing the game in a very small time. Companies must understand that there is an extra responsibility to maintain their strength and edge over newcomers, so they should continue to improve their offerings or offer new things to their clientele. Think of business threat like the common cold, it could appear like a normal rainy day in the morning (realization of biz threat) by the afternoon you could have a temperature (decline in biz results) and by the evening you would be sleeping under a blanket (death of business).
6: Baggage load
For companies, it’s a typical case of bureaucracy slowing down things. Think of how thousands of engineers keep building Facebook or Google every day bit by bit even after a decade when maybe similar strength of engineers can build similar tech is possibly under 6 months. Baggage load is real and it leads to teams working for things that already should be declared stale. Documentation, tests, approvals and filings are all good only to make sure mistakes do not happen when a certain task is done repetitively. I often see that tasks that need to be done only once also are forced to go through similar rigour that the most resilient systems are expected to. I agree that knowledge sharing must be made easier across subteams and even other teams because that can speed up things and reduce dependencies. But when I see simple tasks being done in a rudimentary way, I can only smell a lack of innovation under a baggage load.
I hope reading this would give a sense of potential factors that can cause inefficiency in the team. One can choose to take actions in time or be ready to see the inefficiencies taking their toll in front of your eyes. The last point I want to draw is that inefficiencies also lie in the eyes of a beholder. One may see a company as a fully chaotic place where so many things malfunction or one may choose to see the same team as ripe as food for thoughts and actions.
company business efficiency