The in-box culture is dead, but that may be news to the mayor and officials in New York City.
New York’s City Hall apparently never got the message about deserialization. What I mean by deserialization is curbing the in-box or pass-along approach to work and interaction that is critical for collaboration and value creation. But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has sure received plenty of memos…decision memos, that is.
Before Mayor de Blasio makes many decisions, his staff prepares memos. And before these decision memos reach the Mayor, they reportedly require the signatures of at least eight officials including the first deputy mayor, the law department, the Mayor’s counsel, the budget director, the press secretary, the head of intergovernmental affairs and the deputy mayor with direct responsibility, according to a recent story by J. David Goodman in the New York Times. This is the antiquated pass-along approach.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a memo on flight rules for helicopters took at least nine rounds of revisions. Nine rounds! This is pass-along times nine. And we wonder why citizens complain that government is mired in bureaucracy. The Times story quotes the Mayor’s chief of staff Tom Snyder as saying the Mayor’s decision-making process is “extremely granular, engaged, semi-Socratic.”
Actually, Mayor de Blasio’s approach is anything but Socratic. Socrates believed that the way to the truth was through questioning and dialogue. Socrates rejected writing, because writing meant—quite literally in ancient Athens—that ideas were set in stone or wax and that the process of developing those ideas was dead. Socrates also rejected scripted speeches, because these are essentially the recitation of written words. For organizations making decisions, one form of the truth is accurate information—which is dynamic rather than set in stone. As the situation changes, sometimes hour-to-hour, what can be considered accurate information also shifts.
Using memos or email to make decisions compromises collaboration and disrupts value creation. This approach is a hallmark of command-and-control organizational structure and culture. By the time each department head or official has signed off on the course of action and passed the baton to the next official, the “truth” or facts have often changed. Socrates would roll over. Yet dialogue and questioning without a structure can also pose problems particularly for complex organizations such as New York City government and large, distributed enterprises. So what’s the alternative?
My most recent book, The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration, shows how to change the structure of organizations so that they can evolve from command and control to collaborative. And a fundamental element is creating an Open-Access Enterprise which enables the organization for spontaneous dialogue. In the Open-Access Enterprise, everybody has access to everybody else—and that access is immediate.
Using unified communications, we can see who is available and connect instantly. We can bring key stakeholders into collaborative group sessions (CGS) so we can hash out issues in real time, make decisions and create a work product without getting mired in the pass-along approach of memos and meetings. A CGS can occur virtually using unified communications and related tools or the session can happen physically with all participants in the same room.
Mayor De Blasio’s apparent goal of getting broad input into decisions makes sense. Embracing the Socratic method has merit. But the structure and processes of the Mayor’s office appear flawed and are short circuiting the goal. This is typical of many organizations that embrace collaboration as a concept but sabotage collaboration with a command-and-control structure that encourages bureaucracy and reinforces hidden agendas and internal competition. The solution is to adopt a collaborative organizational structure that leaves memos and traditional meetings in the dust. The in-box culture is dead.