Myths of (In)Effective Workplaces

Over the years, we have accepted many constructs about people and organizations, or at least confronted them in everyday scenarios. Most of these are just facades hiding the real truth. Take down those walls and here some Myths with their true Reality revealed:


Myth… We can be held accountable for something, make others accountable or share accountability.
…Reality: Accountability is a singular relationship “To” someone. The commitment of a staff person to their manager is the blueprint of your structure. It is the framework that provides context for what and how work gets done. If someone isn’t reporting to the right manager, at the right level, with the right scope, they will adopt someone who is.


Myth… Dotted-lines and dual-reporting (aka “The Matrix”) enhances collaboration and leverages resources.
…Reality: Although well intended, these are compromises for weak structure that invite conflict, confusion, duplicate work and effort. Like The Matrix movie, consider these to be little more than illusions. Informally, a matrix takes shape because people will do what it takes to get things done despite the formal structures.


Myth… Flatter is better, less hierarchy makes us more responsive.
…Reality: Organizations are meant to distribute work and authority. Agility comes with the authority to act, make decisions and deploy resources. There is no formula for number of levels or best practice/benchmarks that apply. Your ‘height and width’ is unique to your organization, determined entirely by the tasks– how complex they are and how much of it.


Myth… The most important decisions happen at the upper levels of management (vertically).
…Reality: The most important decisions happen in-level or “horizontally” with individuals closest to the action. What goes up doesn’t always come down, often lacks context or takes too long. Colleagues (‘co-league’ or same level) with equal responsibility and authority can get virtually anything done without requiring approval.


Myth… Strategy is a level of work reserved for senior management and executives.
…Reality: Work is discretion and strategy is a way of thinking that precedes action. It happens at all levels of the organization, all the time. Not just an event every year or two that generates a plan. Bottom-up and everyday strategy is equally important as top-down and once-in-a-while.


Myth… People don’t “take” enough responsibility for what needs to happen.
…Reality: Responsibility is given not taken and this doesn’t mean handing-over more work. When accompanied by control, people can always handle more of it. Engagement lives here, so give generously. Not enough of it and unproductive behaviours fill that space.


Myth… Find the low performers (aka: “bottom 10%”) and manage them out of the organization.
…Reality: Find the bottom 10% and put their managers on notice. It is the manager who is squarely responsible for staff being in this lower bracket. Managers create the environment for performance. This is their first order of business and top priority. Individual contribution is second.


Myth… My position (aka: title) in the organization determines what authority I have.
…Reality: Your individual authority begins and ends with whom you are Accountable “To”. It is bestowed upon you to make decisions and deploy resources. Titles are the equivalent of a HELLO My Name Is badge and create power-distance between people, at best they command only informal authority.


Myth… To attract, promote or retain someone we just “make a box” or new title.
…Reality: Work is finite both in what it is (level/type) and how much there is of it (volume). When we add boxes and levels we dilute the work-to-be-done, take responsibility away from others and create false authority. Boxes-and-lines always look good on paper. If you cannot define the unique work-to-be-done at that level or in that role, then in reality that role doesn’t actually exist.


Myth… Span of control formulas tell us what makes a manager and how many people report to them.
…Reality: Who reports to-whom and for-what is set by the levels of work and responsibility. Rules don’t govern organizations, work does. If you don’t really know what it is, people tend to “make it” up. There is nothing wrong with a manager having only one staff person report to them. It all depends.


Myth… People don’t accept change. We need to motivate and inspire them.
…Reality: People don’t like being asked to behave differently under the same conditions. Motivation is intrinsic and organizations rarely realize the power of personal growth and ambition. When the operating environment or objectives change, alter the workplace (not the people) to get results beyond expectations.


Myth… Culture can be designed, ‘architected’ or reverse-engineered to achieve a desired state.
Reality: Any way you approach it, culture is not a leading indicator of results. It is a lagging indicator and reflection of your organizational Archyology. It is defined by the sum of all applied principles, practices, behaviours and attitudes. Beware of culture-vultures hovering over your business with a solution that predicts the future.


Do you have others you would like to share? Please let us know.

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