In­di­vid­ual ef­fort gets things done

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

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.

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