The Co-ordination problem

“The problem with hybrid is that it’s so hard to co-ordinate with others” is a frequently heard complaint from managers.

But what if the problem isn’t hybrid working?

What if the problem is co-ordination?

This is a case of an old way of working clashing with a new reality. Hybrid isn’t going away. If anything, the move to ‘work from anywhere’ is accelerating. So what’s the solution?

There are some sticking plasters available right now, like mandating days when everyone is in the office and new apps that show where people are working and help ease the pain a little. But they’re not long-term solutions.

In the factory model of work, co-ordination was built in. It was an essential part of the process of managing information to serve the hierarchy. We didn’t question the need to do it.

We did it in face-to-face meetings because we were all there in the office, so it was easy to grab hold of people. We didn’t count the lost productivity of interruptions and time spent in pointless meetings. It was all seen as part of ‘work’ (indeed, for some, it was pretty much the only work they did).

As organisations have become more complex in their operations and the amount of information has mushroomed, the co-ordination need has grown. For example, if you add a new product to a matrix of products, you’ve potentially increased the number of co-ordination meetings exponentially. 

This is one of the factors that has driven an enormous growth in middle-management, which is the layer that does most of the co-ordination work, and in the supporting bureaucracy.

A large part of the bureaucracy of a modern organisation could be cut without affecting performance, with the consequent savings. Removing the need for co-ordination would contribute significantly to that.

So how do we break the need for co-ordination? 

Embrace self-organising teams and asynchronous working. Treat synchronous in-person co-ordination meetings as high-cost activities (which it has become apparent they now are), only to be held occasionally. 

Haier, the global white goods manufacturer, are one example of how this can work.  They have autonomous entrepreneurial groups, each focused on their specific customer segment, that operate independently but are connected through a powerful and advanced network. The network enables information-sharing and co-ordination, and also provides access to internal and external resource groups that they obtain services they need from.

Buurtzorg, a dutch community health provider, have a similar structure of autonomous groups interconnected through an intranet.

Both benefit from massively reduced co-ordination requirements and, consequently, a very small bureaucracy. It also makes them agile, adaptive and resilient.

The problem here, then is the requirement for co-ordination.

Restructure work to remove it and there are huge long- and short-term benefits.

Hybrid is not the problem, it’s the gateway to a huge opportunity.

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