Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We Make Bureaucracy: 2

I’ve often wondered how a bureau came to reside inside a bureaucracy. A bureau seems harmless, a drawer in which a person places clean socks. But bureaus of the administrative kind seem shrink-wrapped in concrete with divisions of labor meted out amongst various offices, a personnel system that operates primarily to minimize lawsuits, and a hierarchy that lacks any freshet of communication, and which only serves to fan the flames of the grapevine.

I have spent the major portion of my working hours warehoused in various bureaucracies except for a brief stint in the dot.com industry.

The real gift of the dot.com days in my humble opinion was not about stock options, but in serving as a hot house for developing new work relationships.

For however brief a moment, I attended monthly meetings that offered information about sales, upcoming contracts, proposed new development, and invited me to participate in forming goals for my division.

After years of occupying a cubicle as a technical writer for the offices of engineering, banking, and government firms, I was suddenly asked to speak up and participate, and not just dully nod my head in response to the latest administrative bulletin, which had arrived through interoffice mail in an ugly envelope.

Team meetings were accompanied by an endless supply of pizza, and a selection of mineral water, which all bespoke of a budget that was being spent, in some small part, on employees. This made a big impression, and as my time ticked on, first for a company that was trying to develop a product where couch potatoes everywhere could order online goods via a TV remote, and then for a company which allowed architects to communicate globally, something else stunned me.

At our team meetings, everyone who sat around the table was expected to generously pipe in at the appropriate moment with suggestions based on our area of expertise. One person wasn't supposed to have all the answers. We were that person.

Driven to release a new product had the net effect of wiping out years of in-bred hierarchical instinct and replacing it, or at least advancing the notion that collaboration, proven by many managerial theorists whose work had been adopted overseas in countries like Japan, was an alternate way of organizing the workforce, or at least conducting an experiment among the multitudes of dot.com foosball lovers.

For roughly five years, from 1995 to 2000, collaboration became a new craze, motivated by profit itself and not by some soft-hearted sixties refugee like myself who yearned for a more humane way of working, and legitimized everything in its path.

So what if there wasn't a sound business plan developed by a person who understood a profit and loss sheet? That was a mere detail. So what if venture capitalists were unable to recoup their initial investment? Something more was at stake.

Although the dot.com era fizzled out in an explosion of overpriced technology stock, one thing remained clear: there was no one right answer, there was only a team.

5 comments:

Bob MacDonald said...

Ms Weiss what a wonderful post. You have clearly, effectively and simply identified the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit. To often the concept of being an entrepreneur is caged in the the stale idea of owning a company. They reality -- as you have so well identified -- that that true entrepreneurialism is a way of life. It is a culture of respect, communication, participation and sharing of an objective and the value achieved. If I didn't know better, I would think that you had ghost-written my book Beat The System -- Building an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic World. Well done! www.bobmaconbusiness.com

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