On a recent assignment to Holland, I noticed that even during rush hour there was very little traffic congestion. I also noticed that we did not encounter stop signs or red lights - instead there were traffic circles and I was intrigued at how well they worked. I realized this could be a great metaphor for how organizations should to be structured in the future.
With the exception of Oromocto, N.B., most of North America uses red and green traffic lights. The system takes decision-making from the public, hoping to make traffic safer.
The rules imply a lack of trust and impose oversight. What happens when too many areas of oversight (traffic lights) are implemented? Often, we get interrupted traffic flow and enticement to ignore the traffic light "boss."
As well, if you try and make a judgment decision, like proceed through a red light in the middle of the night when no one else is on the road, or it is the safest thing to do because of a situation, you will be punished. It does not even matter if these traffic lights are causing long back-ups with cars sitting idling and polluting the environment for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, this is also the way most North American organizations work today. Management says, "I do not trust you. I know best how to do the job, what work should be done and what is best for you and the organization. So, you will come in and sit at a desk as my prisoner where I can see you. You will stay there until 5 p.m. Then you will be released until 9 a.m. the next day."
"As well, all work must flow through me. I will provide work assignments and will determine what to do and what not to do. Furthermore, if you do not do as I say, when I say it, you will be punished, even if it is best for the organization." This ends up causing extreme work flow inefficiencies and low morale.
In the Netherlands they use, almost exclusively, traffic circles. However, there are guidelines laid out and drivers are properly trained. There is trust that everyone will follow these guidelines of respect and politeness.
Drivers will use appropriate judgment when using these circles and they trust and respect that the other driver will do the same. Because of that, traffic flows freely and without backups. This method also saves gas and the environment since vehicles are not sitting and idling going nowhere for long periods of time.
This is the way organizations must work in the future. At Microsoft in Amsterdam we actually witnessed this. Employees are not required to be ‘desk-prisoners' for eight hours a day. In fact, most do not even have assigned work stations, not even the managers.
The people are trusted to do their work wherever they chose. Output is shared through cloud computing. There are guidelines around how people share and respect each other's time and working style. These guidelines are followed, reviewed and revised with input from all levels.
The work flow is not interrupted because every decision does not have to go through the manager. Employees discover their own problems and work together to find the best solutions. Even individual performance plans are shared with colleagues.
There are efficiencies because the manager is not a "traffic light" causing work flow to stop and start. Employees are measured and compensated for the value of their contribution.
For organizations to gain a competitive edge and minimize inefficiencies, they will have to adapt to this new way of working. This new organizational behaviour model will be the economical edge for many companies in the future; however, to make it work, employees will need proper orientation and coaching, and managers will need effective training.
The P.E.I. road system is trending towards more traffic circles, for which I highly commend the government. Can P.E.I. organizations evolve to this model of trust in the workplace as well?
Those companies that can adapt will be well ahead of their competition. There is now proof that by implementing this model, morale will increase, absenteeism will decrease and working relationships will be enhanced. All this will result in happier people, more satisfied customers and higher productivity.
Joseph Sherren, CSP, HoF, a speaker, trainer and executive coach with over 20 years working with organizations who want to enhance the effectiveness of their managers, increase employee morale, and improve bottom line results. After working in many locations across North America, he returned to his home in P.E.I. and now has an office at the Delta Hotel, Charlottetown where the Gateway Leadership Office is located.