Thursday, October 30, 2008

We Make Bureaucracy: 4

Like most Americans who work in some sector of major industry, I came to accept that all I needed to do was to show up.

Now I ask, what is that bit of wisdom about most of life being about showing up?

What I didn’t understand and came to realize, is that sometimes it’s about only showing up. Being reliable is a virtue. Deviating from this norm is never a good idea. Bureaucracy doesn’t know how to deal with deviation. Dilbert, a cartoon strip by Scott Adams that was syndicated throughout the 90’s, mined rich material from just this fact.

But let’s examine a few things. When the fulcrum of power is based at the top and then “trickles down” through the organization in classic triangular fashion, something amazing happens.

A manager's gaze becomes fixated on the chain of command that connects his office to the next upward rung. He’s not a bad person, no, just some poor schmo who’s also caught in a flytrap, making sure that the lines of communication are open between him and the manager who serves as his own lifeline to the top. Securing and defending this relationship occupies the majority of his time, more so than the people who work for him. Poor guy. He’s thinking about next fiscal year.

But then employees who populate the lower echelons of any organization are left without hope.

Barbara Ehrenreich in her book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” writes, “If you are constantly reminded of your lowly position in the social hierarchy, whether by individual managers or by a plethora of impersonal rules, you begin to accept that unfortunate status.”

Bureaucracy is bad for democracy. If I come to work every day with a sense that I am ineffectual, can’t change anything, will be punished for speaking my mind, and ultimately “it will always be this way so why try and change it,” why the heck should I try and change anything? If I’m getting a message to not rock the boat for the privilege of collecting a paycheck, I will do exactly that and feel the same way about government, or anything else (cable or telephone company), which I presume wields some kind of power over me.

The dot-com world was no panacea, and in all honesty, just as filled with bureaucracy, after all we’re human beings who want to delegate stuff to someone else. But given that fact, there also was recognition of the individuals who made up a team and what a team needed to become successful.

Is that so terrible?

It's time for us to restructure ourselves as a team again and to move away from this stifling bureaucracy that looks like America.

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