people aren’t cogs: we need to stop designing systems like they are

earlier this week, ross and i talked through a core piece of jungle’s thinking. the conversation was more coherent than this, but here are some bits and pieces.

unfortunately (and largely due to the industrialization of everything), organizations and corporations are built as if people within them were cogs. roles and responsibilities are delineated under specific positions and titles as if replacing the current person in a position with another will allow that work to be done just as well.

we all know that’s not real. we also know that even though these work systems are designed with that notion in mind, they don’t often ever even work that way. ross and i have both worked in several organizations where our presence or absence (just like everyone else’s) had a significant impact on what work got done and how. of course, the destructive side of this is what most people have experienced as a complete stall of forward motion when someone is missing (short- or long-term) from a team.

so how do we (jungle and beyond) do better? a few things:

  1. don’t design work teams, protocols, and systems as if people are replaceable.
  2. find the balance between setting goals and allowing whatever team (individual or multiple people) to bring their skills and passions to the table in order to achieve it. this is a non-trivial procedure.

productivity shifts when different people are on a team. just because someone is (temporarily or permanently) missing from a team, doesn’t mean the team’s progress should stop. it does mean that progress might (should?) look different. this is because people are unique. this fact should be treated like an asset, not a hindrance. this will require a cultural shift. it is beginning, but we have a long way to go.

note: this is sort of a follow-up from a piece i wrote earlier today: on companies that plan on employee burnout