The perils of efficiency

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

When I’m talking about facilitation, I often find myself saying that the effort to be efficient is what makes meetings inefficient.

By setting agendas which assume that groups of people work on issues in a logical efficient manner we constrain the kind of complex but non-linear thinking that often gives us the best results. Dave Snowden puts his finger on the problem: Sin, thy name is efficiency

Efficiency is all about stripping away all apparently superfluous functionality so that all that is left is what you really need. It is at the heart of BPR and its modern successor Six Sigma. The problem is that the definition of what is superfluous at any one time is very specific to the context of that time and the knowable future. Focusing on efficiency is great for aspects of an organisation that are process based, but not for the more fluid and complex areas of innovation, service etc etc. There the issue is to be effective which implies a degree of planned inefficiency, the grit in the oyster, that provides adaptive capacity over time. Efficiency is all well and good for stable environments, but for all other context we need to focus on resilience.

When we impose these linear models on our meetings we strangle the expressiveness and the connection of the people in the room. If my mind naturally roves to another interesting aspect of the issue not on the agenda, I can’t share what’s going on which seems to me to risk depleting the collective intelligence. At worst, we cut ourselves off from our reality; our language is not directly related to our experience so we’re not actually present to our experience – which can be a kind of madness.

Reminds me of the post I made a while ago about the waterfall model of problem-solving and its drawbacks.

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