When Changing Workplace Culture Creates Organizational Drag

What is Organizational Drag

Have you ever noticed that the more people who go to a meeting, the longer the meeting will run? And it’s not a result of bringing together a group of heavy talkers; it’s simply that adding more people adds more pad time, moments when someone needs extra clarification, has to run to the restroom, or simply contributes to the conversation.

This law of meetings is a small-scale example of a big-picture problem in large organizations: organizational drag, or chronic workplace friction that adds time and effort to processes that should otherwise require less of each over time.  

Organizational drag has a lot of legitimate causes. But what we want to focus on today is what to do when you’re putting a new process in place or adding time to different initiatives in order to re-focus and shift priorities, only to find that it adds up to some serious delays.

While a little drag is normal at first, changing your workplace culture should result in a more efficient and productive culture over time — not a slower, more stagnant one. If you’ve come to find that implementing new processes in a changing workplace culture has increased your organizational drag, here’s what to do next:

Re-evaluate the changes for mission and value alignment

If you make a change to your company culture that doesn’t resonate with your mission and values, you’re setting yourself up for organizational drag. The change won’t feel natural to your employees, and if it doesn’t feel natural to your employees, it will require an extra mental step or shift every time they go through the process or make the decision — and that friction will add up.

Again, these extra steps are natural at first when employees are learning how to adapt to a changing workplace culture. But over time, organizational drag should shrink, not expand. If it seems like the change you’ve made is only contributing to the problem, bring the focus back to your mission and values; consider how you can solve the problem within the framework of your company’s personality and goals rather than simply making the problem go away.

This principle in practice:

When it comes to exchanging information, companies often assume that speed is everything. So, when changing workplace culture to enhance communication within an organization, a company might think it makes sense to jump on a solution that promises the fastest interaction so that employees can get back to work as quickly as possible after exchanging information.

However, if the company’s mission and values prioritize interpersonal experiences and relationship-building, they might find that a faster communication system actually leads to decreased employee engagement. Employees may have faster access to information and an enhanced ability to communicate, but they’re getting less satisfaction out of those interactions because the speed takes away from what they value. Because of their unique values, a process that makes room for an extra 30 seconds or minute per interaction might contribute to a more meaningful or positive interaction and be a better solution for that organization.

Consider whether or not the change is a stop-gap for another problem

According to the Harvard Business Review, companies often jump to a great solution for a problem without stopping to make sure they’ve identified the right problem. The article shares a great example of residents in a building complaining about the elevator being too slow. The obvious solution is to make the elevator faster, but the author argues that redefining the problem could help us uncover more creative solutions. In this example, instead of considering that the elevator is too slow, the problem was reframed by saying the wait is annoying. Then a new solution presented itself: put up mirrors, play music, and install a hand sanitizer to make the wait go faster.

When changing workplace culture, it’s easy to identify a problem and jump to an obvious solution. However, if that solution adds organizational drag, it’s worth going back to the drawing board to reframe the problem and see if there are other solutions.

This principle in practice:

Let’s say you’re trying to troubleshoot your organization’s work environment. Account managers have been complaining that the open-office floor plan leads to too much background noise for client calls, but they use the open work space for the high levels of collaboration that goes into their work.  

The obvious solution is to rearrange the space to give these employees offices or switch to a closed work space. However, if you reframe the problem as “It’s unprofessional when the customer can’t hear me or I can’t hear the customer on a phone call,” the solution to changing workplace culture could be as simple as investing in high-quality audio headsets or creating a designated conference call office where account managers have exclusive access to book phone calls. These solutions will retain the office space’s collaborative benefits while solving the new problem in a creative way.

 

A changing workplace culture should be changing for the better. New processes should become more natural over time, adding efficiency and effectiveness to the way your company does business and avoid organizational drag. If they don’t, it’s worth troubleshooting the adjustments you’ve made to make sure they truly align with what your employees need.

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