Individual effort gets things done
ndividual effort is the basis of success in any endeavour. Yes, I know about teamwork. And it is true that teams are given the credit for winning matches. But it is individuals who score and save the goals that give the results. So whenever you hear that a Committee has been set up, reach for your worry beads. The overwhelming majority of Committees simply dilute the responsibility which individuals have to get things done properly and quickly. It is absurd, for instance, as I once saw done in a public utility, to establish a Committee to investigate and eliminate waste. Is that not the everyday responsibility of individual managers and employees? A Committee publicised as performing that function will simply give an excuse to managers to set aside their own responsibility and leave it to the Committee.
A long time ago a German scientist named Ringelmann asked workers to pull as hard as they could on a rope attached to a meter that measured the strength of their efforts. Subjects worked alone and in groups of two, three and eight. As group size increased the amount of effort by each individual dropped. One person pulling alone exerted an average of 63 kg of force. This dropped to 53 kg per person in groups of three and 31 kg in groups of eight. The greater the number of people performing the task, the less effort each one applied. This is sometimes called social loafing. Each group member feels the others will take up the slack, resulting in reduced effort by each individual. Anyone in charge of anything should remember the Ringelmann effect whenever he or she thinks of setting up a Committee, Working Group, or Task Force.
The golden rule for getting things done is absolutely clear: “Whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty by close application, it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if more are employed thereon.” If properly applied this rule will at once eliminate 90 percent of all Committees, Working Groups and Task Forces and good riddance. The main aim of most Committees is to cause delay. The application of the golden rule also has the salutary effect of identifying clearly where responsibility lies in getting action taken. When individuals are made specifically accountable, action automatically speeds up. On Ringelmann’s rope, when eight men pulled, none was responsible for the loss of leverage.
One reason why Committees are to be avoided like a plague is that they produce meetings as fast as rabbits breed. And meetings are notorious engines for wasting time.
Most meetings serve absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever. They last too long. They take up the time of executives who should be getting on with actually getting things done. They are summoned more often than not because no one can think of anything better to do and calling a meeting at least gives the impression of doing something. Most of them are perfect examples of in-breeding: that is, kindred spirits fertilising each other with ideas already bred deep within the group that is having the meeting.
Too many meetings consist simply of people called together to tell each other what they are planning to do which wastes time that could otherwise be used in doing what is being talked about. If athletes were bureaucrats they would spend all their time at meetings discussing how to train and how to run and they would never win a race. A huge number of meetings are held simply so that people can justify their existence, inflate their self-importance, excuse their mistakes, and exchange stale opinions. Perhaps most unhealthily of all, decisions emerging from meetings are too often based on the views of the strongest personality, not the clearest thinker. It is far better for the advice of the clearest thinker to prevail and then allow the strongest personality to take action – but meetings are no good at achieving that result.
Any organisation, including Government, is advised not to kick problems sideways by setting up one Committee, Working Group or Task Force after another when difficult decisions loom. Stagnation and failure lie in that direction. And inculcate in all the habit of hatred for time-consuming meetings. In this connection, I have a practical suggestion to make which I have recommended before. When the Queen holds meetings of her Privy Council, all remain standing. So let President Granger decree that henceforth all those attending meetings in the public service must stand throughout. That should save a few million wasted man-hours a year. And the decree should certainly not be limited to the public service – apply it to all the nation and watch how fast we progress.