Unproductive Organizations

There are many reasons why organizations are unproductive. Collectively they are the result of a dysfunction between and among the leaders, managers, and ordinary employees. Rarely is one group solely responsible. In fact, you and your organization stands to gain the most by assuming that you are as much a part of the problem as anyone else.

In an earlier article (Common Causes of an Unproductive Organisation) we talked about several things that contributed to unproductive organizations including the lack of a big picture, poor communication, and inappropriate dress. There are other reasons, and in this article we’ll look at three more: the failure to work together, peer pressure / bullying, and the lack of organizational justice. Each of these form sub-disciplines in the field of management, so you will understand that one article will barely scratch the surface.


Failure to work together

Usually, a failure to work together is discussed in the context of teams. The difference between a team and a group of people is that the former has a higher level of interdependence than the latter.

Teams also have fewer people in them. In case you have any doubts about this, notice what happens when you put more than seven or eight people together to work on something. You’ll find that they naturally divide themselves into smaller groups. It’s difficult to relate to a larger group with the same level of intimacy as you would with one that is smaller. It makes the whole idea of having 15, 20 or more people on the same team ridiculous.

The failure to work together, however, extends beyond teams. It reflects the attitude of those who feel that in order to survive they have to “look out for No. 1”. One reason why this interferes with productivity is that when you think only of yourself, you’re not thinking about how what you do impacts others. What that means is that in an effort to become more efficient, you are making your colleagues inefficient. You could be working at cross-purposes.

Organizations can obviate this problem by ensuring that their internal systems and managerial practices support a climate of cooperation rather than militate against it – something which happens all too often. Use this article as a wake-up call to evaluate your own workplace. Identify those places where people aren’t working together, and then look for the specific reasons why.


Peer pressure / bullying

Peer pressure and bullying are related. They can almost be seen as opposite ends of the same continuum. The former can be anything from gentle banter to not wanting to disappoint your “mates”. The latter is enforced change via emotional or psychological pressure. It can come from your boss as well as your peers.

Peer pressure can cause people to go the “extra mile”; to work later or harder. It can make them do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Working more hours, for example, in order to complete a project may seem like the right thing. It is certainly a worthy goal. But if people have already worked a full day, then staying up all night is probably the wrong thing to do.

Bullying, on the other hand, is the opposite. It can cause people to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. A good example of this is “working to rule” or deliberately working slower so as to not “make everyone else look bad”. Bullying plays on the fear it can instil in the person on the receiving end.  


Lack of organizational justice

Organizational justice refers to fairness in your organization: the equal application of the rules, if you prefer. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” and all that. If one group of people has to follow one set of procedures while another can ignore them without penalty, then you have a problem with organizational justice. It doesn’t matter if you think that “rank has its privileges”.

The lack of organizational justice will directly impact motivation. When people feel that unfair decisions are being made for them and which are outside of their control, they feel that those who do so no longer respect them.

Unfair treatment can also have health consequences. Studies have shown that people can experience more problems with physical and mental health than those who work in an environment where organizational justice is practiced. Stress is increased which itself can lead to debilitating, long-term illnesses and even mortality.


What do these things have in common?

You may be thinking that these three reasons for organizational unproductivity are unrelated. The fact is that they have much in common which is why they’ve been discussed together.

Those who feel that it is necessary to look after themselves rather to cooperate with others may be doing so because they are being bullied, and the lack of organizational justice in your organization may encourage or at least support a culture that permits it.

The most effective way to deal with bullies is by applying overwhelming, sustained force: Not by bullying back or getting physical, but by removing their power; by making it clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated and that if it continues the repercussions will be severe. Bullies don’t understand anything else, which is why you have to be so tough. If you lack the moral backbone to do this, then bring in someone who will.


Think about these three reasons. Evaluate the areas where your organization is the most unproductive, and then look for the most effective ways to deal with them.


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