During a client meeting, I suggested that a web application might solve their bottleneck. The Director of Operations leaned forward with interest. He hadn’t thought of that option. Then he slowly leaned back and replied, “If it means our IT department has to create or do something new we can’t do it.”
The IT department was that company’s bottleneck. In other organizations its unbending support staff, fearful managers, or lazy supervisors.
Bottlenecks stagnate processes, drain resources, and strangle potential.
Innovation is the exception. Stagnating status quo is the norm.
Organizations persistently create bottlenecks; choke-points in processes, procedures, structures, or people.
Additionally, fixing a bottleneck in one department may only push it down stream. Solving a support staff bottleneck pushes it to Accounting. From Accounting it goes to HR.
Leaders may try blaming others. However, leaders are always responsible for creating, enabling, or tolerating bottlenecks. Therefore, unclogging bottlenecks always begins and ends with organizational leaders.
Leaders suffocate their organizations by:
- Talking too much.
- Acting too little.
- Hoarding decision making authority.
- Delegating too slowly.
- Excusing incompetence.
- Rejecting dissent.
On Rejecting Dissent
Agreement establishes the status quo. Dissent, disagreement, and contradiction are the tools of innovation. It’s most challenging in top-down organizations where agreement is reward and dissent is punished. In my opinion, many top-down organizations create cultures where people waddle around like ducks getting in a row. It’s an art form. This activity is called leadership?
Leaders bust bottlenecks by:
- Calling for decisions more quickly. Complex problems have more than one solution. Pick one and make it work.
- Leveraging the power of deadlines to create urgency.
- Authorizing others.
- Identifying new individuals as first-delegates.
- Leadership development. Remember, people learn to lead by leading.
- Exploring dissent. “What if” is better than no-way.
What organizational bottlenecks have you seen?
What strategizes can you suggest for overcoming organizational bottlenecks?
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Nice Post, Dan!
I love the line “Dissent, disagreement, and contradiction are the tools of innovation.” It brings up a great word-picture.
Tools like these are powerful and effective. But in many organizations, few know how to use them safely. In the hands of the untrained, inexperienced, or timid, these tools can be like a chainsaw in the hands of a third-grader. However when bottlenecks or log jams are stopping innovation, the real leader has already been trained to use them properly and can be counted upon to use these tools to get things moving again.
It does take skill and confidence for leaders to come to the point of welcoming dissent without taking it personally or being offended. I keep going back to values, mission, and vision as tools to evaluate dissent. I think another issue is organizations that focus on their own comfort rather than creating and serving customers.
Best to you with Linked2Leadership.
One important thing to develop an inviornment that doesn’t tolerate bottlenecks, is organizational leaders who are transperants, competent and fair.
Thanks for the great post as always,
You left wonderful insights. So true.
I appreciate and like the contents and ideas of bottlenecks. It is true. Here, I would like to focus and dig out some more thoughts and practices about bottlenecks. Too much leadership around standard, processes and metrics can be bottlenecks. When metrics are in place, you only need measurement, you do not need to monitor people around it. When leaders start blaming persons , then it becomes dangerous and desired norms in the organisations because it sends strong signal to others that leader like it. So, leader should attempt to discourage the practices of either listening criticism, blame or backbiting etc. Now , who is the biggest bottlenecks in the organisations. I think the biggest bottlenecks in the organisations are informations blockers, informations distorters, rumour spreaders, propaganda spreaders and the people who always criticise others and appreciate their own efforts.
The biggest bottlenecks that I have seen is creating negative perception about dissent and silent people, providing distorted infomation to the bosses. The most challenging moment in the process is one way communication to the bosses. Usually bosses do not provide opportunity to listen to other side and then take decision based on percieved opinion. So, leadership is the biggest bottleneck here. I have seen leaders those talk much about honesty, transparecy and accountability are the most unaccountable and dishonest. I do not say these out of frustration or any negative peception, but it is reality.
The perhaps best strategies to root out bottlenecks are creating transparency at three level; leadership transparency, process transparecy and people transparecy. When leaders are transparent in all activities and ensure process transparecy, people will be transparent.
We need a leader who can keep his promise at any cost, interact each employee across all level, minimise power distance and connect rather than command. IF all these actions are possible, I can bet that bottlenecks will be enemy rather than friends to the organisations.
In most situations the bottleneck is indeed very evident to everyone, sort of accepted, something you can’t work around – such is the perception.
The worst bottleneck is the one you perceive as unavoidable, because truth is that in most situations it’s just a matter of adapting without having fear of change. But we all know, change is something most people are afraid of, for the exact reason it disrupts that same status quo causing the problem in first place. A bottle-necked process can be a process that works for the most part, but a “new process”, who knows, right?
KaChing. Bottlenecks are perceived as unavoidable. Man is that one true. I can’t change it because of the system or whatever… blah blah blah.
Thanks for jumping into the conversation. I’m always glad to see you Gabriel.
Hi Dan, The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and (Theory of Constraints) syas it best of all.
The catch is getting people to relaise when accepting contraints is a constraint itself. a frequent phrase from my mouth is “That’s a cop out”, most often heard when people say “I can’t because…”
Go Well. Richard
One major bottleneck I’ve seen is managers who have to have the final say in wordsmithing a document. No matter what the document is, when it’s sent to them for approval, they have to change some wording, then do it again when it comes back to them for approval again. This can delay a project a few weeks, especially when they’re too busy to look at it when it first comes on their desk.
As important as word craft is, at some point trust your staff to do a good job and get on with it.
I think the typical org chart with its titles and “reports” inherently create bottlenecks where none should exist. Titles don’t confer expertise and can be intimidating to the “team” if there is no sense of “safe community.” I like the horizontal org chart where different skill sets and innovators work collaboratively to make things work for the organization and not for themselves personally. Freedom from the “direct reports” also can undo unexpected and unnecessary bottlenecks and make processes move faster and more efficiently. Leaving the ego dragon on the pillow when you leave for work will set you up for a successful daily creative adventure along side your team. Effort will always motivate and not stifle the creative genius each of us in our own special way harbor. Sometimes however, only pushing in the cork will let the “wine” flow! AD
Dan, there were at least three times in this post that I thought “that’s the thought I want to copy and paste into my comment because it’s so relevant!”
I think it is human nature to, almost subconsciously, allow bottlenecks to take over because they allow us to avoid a difficult choice/task/activity by saying, for example “if a change request to make letters all caps instead of lower case took six months, imagine how long it will take to [insert much longer/more complex task here]”.
When we allow that type of negativity to creep into our communication, we are giving up already. I guess that thought leads me to pick “Remember, people learn to lead by leading.” Even if the individuals in the room don’t have official leadership capacity on the org chart, every single one of them can contribute to a culture where they know ducks don’t always have to be in a row to be effective.
Great post regarding bottle necks, Dan. The best way leaders can eliminate them is to communicate, communicate, and for variety, communicate some more.
Enjoy reading your stuff as always.
Bottlenecks are the flotsam and jetsam of command and control and of newfound power wielders (true that there is a current vogue of IT being in that domain.) As Dan noted, it can also be HR, Purchasing, et al. First define if the bottleneck is person driven or process driven.
When a valid squeeze of ‘check and balance’ keeps the system honest (perhaps adding Croadie’s buffer in TOC) and within its capacity, there can still be flow, however when it cuts off all circulation or stifles creativity and service delivery…that is another story.
Static leads to entropy and that cannot be a standard practice.
As far as strategies to overcome, we might revisit how to eat an elephant or at least acknowledge the elephant in the room. As MC Hammer used to say…da da da duh…’break it down’ or process map it (or value stream it if you have time) and see where you can best do any of Dan’s six suggestions. This may be an instance where ready, shoot, aim might even work!
LOL you go Doc!
Love the distinction between person driven vs. process driven. I bet we’ve all seen both. I know I have.
Man you have a great voice!
Doc is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/doc
Here’s a thought – an organization sturdy enough wants to innovate. They attempt to try a few things here and there but inevitably fail. Not because the things they try are bad. Not because they were implemented wrong. But because the company’s culture (THE bottleneck) is shaped against any such innovation by constant finger pointing and cross-blaming. So in order to cover their own back everyone falls back to old tried and true ways…
Reminds me of an old story when city’s department of transportation had heard that in UK, where cars’ drivers sit on the right side, the accident rate is 3% lower and decided to implement right-side driving on 20% of cars in the city as an experiment.
When I woke up this morning and read this, I was outraged! It took me several times of reading and rereading this article for me to wrap my head around it and not impulsively blast an irate message. Here are my initial thoughts:
With regard to “leaders that suffocate” – a leader does not allow for these bottle necks to take place, nor do senior level managers. Although this happens more often than not, I feel these individuals are self fulfilling and extremely disconnected with their organization’s teams (or lack there of). I recently sat down with several C-Suite professionals that are part of an international small enterprise which consists of 37 VPs – each who were so disconnected with the organization that they took it upon themselves to reschedule their own sales conferences. Needless to say, nothing was gained and there was an obscene amount of finger pointing.
Talking too much, delegating too slow, over-exercising their authority, and the many others abusive acts of false leadership are beginning to come to a screeching halt, now that share holders demand answers and B2B and B2E cultures are in desperate need of overhauling.
Now, onto the more influential parts of this leadership post.
Bottleneck busters who are proactive when it comes to a sense of urgency are in fact leaders in which others will continue to respect and go the extra mile for. Either in everyday duties and/or when it becomes “crunch time.” Being able to engage with those alongside with you and allowing for, or creating authority (even eliminating resistance) when it comes to policy and procedure – allows for ownership, sense of self worth and being part of something bigger than you. When some of the simplest things have layers of redundancy involved and walls of bureaucratic nonsense, adverse effects take place. Leaders who confront and challenge status quo (those who continually go against the grain) are those paving the way in the 21st century.
The days of creating “sheeple” (people that move along with the masses) are long over. Be dangerous and live life abundantly!
Great post Geoff! Excellent example too.
You know your organization has bottlenecks when….there are 37 VPs!
Love the sheeple…tried to combine lemmings and humans…not as good, lemmans. 😉
Thanks Doc, I appreciate it.
“Lemmans”… love it! 🙂
Good post. Relevant, true and valuable.
Thanks for another great topic!
The one thing I’ve seen recently related to bottlenecks is the fact that “leaders” in the organization hold information hostage by not disseminating it to their peeps. That, in turn, means that “leaders” are unable to delegate effectively because their peeps have only some of the information and, therefore, cannot make a truly informed decision. It’s a frustrating environment for all involved because decision making becomes snail-like. And, people have difficulty in understanding the decisions made because it’s predicated on “secret” information.
True leaders (1) disseminate info widely in order to delegate effectively thereby alleviating decision bottlenecks; and (2) optimize the whole to prevent pushing a bottleneck from area to area (a Lean manufacturing concept). And, I absolutely agree that dissent is part of innovative thinking that inspires participation in idea generation to find the best solution to any problem.
Thanks for addressing this issue!
Is there anyway we could point out the problem to a person, especially he’s more experienced and is of a higher authority?
Most of my colleagues are frustrated with his hoarding of power & work.
Lots of us are planning to quit because we just couldn’t stand the way he works.
Appreciate your feedback.
I see you’re in a challenging situation. My first thought is approach a lion carefully. Second thought is unrequested advice is usually interpreted as criticism.
I wish there was a magic pill.
Sorry to hear that Simi, keep planning, that too can bring you hope…and keep you focused on what can be/what should be.
In the meantime, might it be helpful to maintain an open (non-critical), questioning approach? Assuming that you value continuously improving and learning, mention that to your boss and that you would like to gain from his experiences. Building that rapport and really just settling into a ‘sponge’ mode can minimize your own stress and perhaps open future opportunities. Getting comfortable with a question like..’how can I help you,’ when your boss talks about his work load.
Would some of the old Leadership Freak posts be helpful? I went to LF portal and there is place to search past posts and found these with just one query on communication… I didn’t query bosses or frustration, bet you might find some more applicable.
Hang in there Simi!
I decided to research organizational bottlenecks and found your “Bottleneck Busters” post. This regards a project which has what I anticipate will cause serious bottlenecks as the project progresses. All statewide communications must go through and be approved by two individuals. There will be an anticipated web-site which these two individuals along with communications will approve. I can understand that the right messages need to go out, at the same time what if this creates a bottleneck as the project heads toward Go-LIve? The lead is already being pulled away from meetings and Action Items are being delayed. How often do you find this type of situation and what suggestions would you offer to resolve this. Do you see this more frequently in government organizations?
I’m not sure how important it is for communications to be approved in a timely manner. If speed is urgent there is a problem. If image or screening content is the primary concern, what else can be done?
Do I see this governmental’s? My experience is in higher ed and it’s a problem. When people sign documents they don’t read, they don’t need to sign them. The problem is many organizations are protecting their image or brand. I can’t think of a quick way to do that if there is a small number of gate keepers.
Can others be trained on key factors to screen?
Thanks for your note,