Bureaucracy Busters are the process of engaging individuals from across an organization in identifying and improving, or stopping, activities that add little or no value, or which introduce too much friction to operations.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Bureaucracy Busters

The concept behind bureaucracy busting is that bureaucracy, “red-tape” and other frictions slow down the pace of action and decision making in organizations and that they should be removed where possible. The process of removing this red-tape is sometimes known as Bureaucracy Busting.

red tape - representing what gets removed through Bureaucracy Busters
Red tape can slow an organization down and generate unnecessary work.

It’s often not easy for leaders to identify the specific rules, policies or processes that cause friction in their organizations. Bureaucracy Busting overcomes this challenge by getting feedback directly from employees on the ground about what needs to change.

An added benefit of getting suggestions from employees is that doing so can build employee engagement and enthusiasm for reducing bureaucracy and improving efficiency. In essence, by engaging employees early on in this process organizations are co-creating a future state with their employees.

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Examples of bureaucracy busting activities

There are a wide range of activities that organizations can undertake to engage with their employees and bust bureaucracy. The following are just a few examples that we are aware of.

A Bureaucracy Challenge

This is an organizational wide approach to reducing bureaucracy.

Individuals submit suggestions for ways to reduce bureaucracy or improve efficiency. A central team reviews the suggestions and assess their feasibility. The team then publishes the top 10 ideas and individuals in the organization vote for their favorites. The organization then takes forward the top three ideas. The organization invests in all three of these ideas, ensuring they are sponsored and managed by a project team.

A stop sign, representing stopping things through Bureaucracy Busters
Sometimes it’s good to stop what you’re doing

A Stop Campaign

This is a competitive and team-based approach to reducing bureaucracy.

Teams are set the goal of saving as much time possible by stopping activities that add no or limited value. They then brainstorm ideas for what they should stop, and are empowered to simply stop them.

Teams keep a log of the total amount of time they have saved. The team that saves the most time through their activities over the duration of the competition wins a prize.

A “Room 101” Activity

This individual activity can be used to introduce the concept of reducing bureaucracy and engage people with the process.

In preparation for an ”away-day”, “off-site” or similar meeting, attendees prepare a list of activities they think should stop. At the event, they take turns sharing their ideas with the audience and disposing of them into “room 101” (a box). Suggestions are often later voted and, potentially, the most popular suggestion is then implemented.

The process of sharing ideas is powerful and can inspire people to make significant changes.

Learning More

Bureaucracy Busters can form part of an Organizational Development Programs. Like introducing common language, they’re often used to change organizational cultures and to improve employee experience and employee engagement. They’re particularly helpful for innovation cultures and incremental innovation.

We’ve also written briefly on the Denison culture survey as well as the organizational culture triangle, fearless feedback, crabs in buckets and different types of organizational cultures.

You might enjoy our podcast on organizational cultures with Darrin Murriner, author of Corporate Bravery:

The World of Work Project View

While many aspects of bureaucracy can be very helpful for organizations by improving control and quality, other forms of it can be very detrimental and introduce unnecessary friction and strain. Activities that engage individuals in identifying and stopping bureaucracy can be very helpful ways to identify the more unhelpful forms of bureaucracy, and to reduce them.

For these efforts to identify and reduce bureaucracy to be successful, though, leaders need to genuinely listen to suggestions and then invest support, time, effort and money into their solutions. If leaders don’t support ideas through investment or allocation of time for solutions, then the task simply becomes a burden for individuals and many of them will opt out.

It must be remembered that some bureaucracy has purpose and adds value. So care must be taken regarding which activities to stop.

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This post is based on our experiences in the world of work. The phrase “Bureaucracy Busters” though, and some of the processes behind it, have been written about by Lazlo Bock in his book Work Rules!.

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