The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Joining the rat race

As organizations grow they frequently do so by simply adding new tasks as they appear. A colleague of mine was describing this based on his journey. When he started with one partner it was sufficient to exchange with one another any time a question appeared. The two of them found that the easiest way to go. When his organization started to grow he realized how new functions entered his task list. Managing his tasks with conversations as before had become complicated.

He observed that the additional tasks were pulling him away from his core competency. They all had to be done, but they were not his main interest. They helped him see more areas of business but also took his time with the learning he had to do to execute them.

With a growing task list, he couldn’t devote as much time as he felt needed to do them well. His task list started to become a list of things to be done leading him away from what he wanted to achieve with his work.

He was at a crossroad where he could end up being a busy manager or a forward-looking organizer.

As a process consultant, he decided to use the work he teaches and apply it to his organization. Looking at the way he described his work, he transformed his organization from one that handles a linear to-do list to an organization that has a mapped to-do list.

By focusing on making the different processes visible he was able to map the different tasks into a big picture of the organization’s activities. One that creates visibility on how tasks are interconnected, how the quality of execution depends on those contributing to it, and how many people depend on one task, that is all, being well done.

It’s an overview very few organizations take the time to give themselves. Even less, when the managers have become trapped in a rat race. They have become so busy that there is no time left for them other than the one executing tasks.

Over the years, the growing number of tasks creates silos in which people become entangled. They lose track of dependencies and can’t see anymore how they contribute to the service the organization is creating. That’s when everyone in the organization either resigns to simply do the tasks on the checklist or to see themselves as the ones who are in the center of it all. Individual tasks becoming mental silos within which they find meaning and security.

Methods leading to an overview of what the organization does help to stay on track. They also allow gaining a view of where the organization can move toward next. But they require work that isn’t always seen as a high priority and create the ambiguity of having to make choices. They help teams to feel part of something larger than themselves. But they also show how people depend on one another which invites a sense of insecurity and a desire for control.



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