My Favourite Organisational Stupidities

CaptureSo many to choose from. Here are some of my favourites.


Brainstorming simply doesn’t work as advertised.  

Researchers at Yale in 1958 pitted 12 groups of 4 undergraduates against 48 undergraduates who worked by themselves. They were given puzzles to solve. The solo students developed twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups and their solutions were judged to be more feasible and likely to be more effective.

Turns out that brainstorming suppresses the potential of the group.


Lack of.

This is all pervasive and corrosive despite all the evidence saying that most people are trustworthy.   


…everything as number 1! I do this to myself. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.  

New Rules…

…and policies for everyone when in fact it is a minority who need a good talking to…“Come to my office. We are going to have a chat and after that things will be different and better for me and everyone. Failing that, things will be very different and worse for you…”

Oh, how I miss management.

PC Nonsense

The problem with not working in a corporation anymore is that I don’t get the memos telling me that down is the new up and up is the new down. So when I asked someone the other day about their staff they scowled at me like I was some oppressor of the workers. The term in their organisation is, apparently, colleague.

Let me tell you something.

If one colleague can sack another colleague, they are not colleagues. They are boss and employee as evidenced by the fact that only the bosses use the word “colleague.”

Trying to Improve Performance by…

  • Offering bonuses for achievements the individual cannot deliver by herself
  • Focusing on outputs (goals) rather than inputs (activities)
  • Reviewing performance four times a year. Hey, the plan-do-review cycle is 98% do you know. Four times a year is maybe OK if you do it standing up and the notes are written before anyone walks out the door. But that doesn’t happen. 

Not Coaching

Only training for skill development when coaching for mindset development and hence performance is where the real upside usually resides.

Sheep-dip Residential Training Courses

Almost a total waste of time. With added liver damage as well. Expensive and ineffective. Flies in the face of stuff we already know, like Hermann Ebbinghaus’ spaced repetition approach to learning and remembering (19th century!!). There is nothing new, including it would seem, our ability to fail to implement what is already known. Duh.   

Zero-Sum Thinking

Allowing (often) men in positions of power to think all interactions with the supply chain (forward and back) have to be won or lost. It’s an ecosystem you silly man.

Getting too Big for your Boots

As they said in Mad Men, working in advertising would be a great job if it wasn’t for the customers…  

I think this happens around the 100 customer mark. If you have less than 100 customers you know most of them by name. Each is important and you genuinely appreciate the business.

Beyond that, no individual customer seems to matter that much and they are treated accordingly, usually by someone in the organisation who is a colleague at the bottom of the colleague hierarchy.  

Status Quo Bias

Putting barriers in the way of new ideas. A default to business-as-usual. Meaning that new stuff has to be off-the-scale brilliant to stand any chance of being adopted or the danger and pain the organisation has to face has to become unbearable before anything new will be considered. This can happen to countries too. I’m looking at you France.

Informed Leader Fallacy.

I like the word fallacy. It’s not pretending, or soft soaping. The leader believes she is better informed and has better instincts than others just because she is the leader…

Treating Farmers better than Hunters.  

“Hey, I look after £20 million of sales per year. Every year. Same customers. I look after it. I am important!!” says the highly paid farmer.

Meanwhile the poor hunter, responsible for few sales (that is not her job!!) fights alligators every day for little reward, is forced to become a farmer to get paid properly. So there’s a constant shortage of hunters, without whom there would be no farmers. Best place to be a hunter? In your own business.   

I’m glad I got that off my chest. Have I missed anything out? What’s your worst horror story? Let me know below.

4 Responses to My Favourite Organisational Stupidities

  1. David February 3, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Upside-down pyramid structures (‘too many chiefs and not enough native americans’). How are our managers doing? They are not managing. What will we do? We could get … a manager to manage those managers! Then the managers will be able to manage, and our organisation will be managed. Trend towards flatter structures bedammed!! No.

    I’m not massive on ‘training courses’ either, unless you’re going to something where someone has some knowledge that you really want and need that you’ve worked out you cannot get any other way.

    “Values”. Arbitrary, subjective nonsense. I am sick of all this, and I hope one day they go in the same dustbin that ‘working in partnership’ and ‘our story’ went into. (I’m hoping that ‘journey’ will make it in there one day too) Ed Millibean is keen on chuntering on about values, and the longer he goes on about them without talking about things that normal people recognise, the less his chances of being the next PM become.

    Delusion of equal relationships: “now we are an equal partner in this initiative”. There are virtually no equal relationships. In all kinds of relationships, typically different parties bring different things in different quantities to relationships so that they work for the parties concerned. The trouble can start organisations start kidding themselves on about their place in the world.

    (You might imagine that a 50/50 business partnership is quite equal, but even then … )

    (and from my past) “Grade-ism” – apparently still nowhere near extinction in the civil service. Now, it’s probably not always appropriate for a project manager to contact a chief executive about every little thing. However I’m told its still commonplace (since my time) for a person one ‘grade’ above another to literally refuse to communicate in any way with another person one ‘grade’ below. Not limited to mandarins or managers, goes all the way down to the relationship between ‘admin assistants’ (‘AAs’)and ‘admin officers’ (‘AOs’). In all seriousness, if an AA from another department has a question for an AO there, they must identify the AA working to that AO, ask the AA the question, who will ask the AO. The AO will give the answer to their AA, who will pass it back to the AA in the other department. This can be seen all the way up the chain. No really, I kid you not. In fairness, this is part of the reason why the current Government are trying to import people from the private sector, against grim resistance from the incumbents, unions etc.

    • Mark Nugent February 4, 2014 at 8:43 am #

      I recognise the grade-ism thing from ICI, in a diluted form. Maybe not surprising as I believe the grade structure was pinched from the civil service.

  2. Keith Plumb February 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    Most of the clients I work with do not even train for skills and then wonder why they do not have any. Coaching – not much chance there.

    I usually take the “Good Will Hunting” approach to training – why pay for it why you can get the information for free. Only problem is that you do not get a certificate for training yourself.

    I have had some good results from brain storming – maybe I am not that good at problem solving on my own but I do have some good inspirations when sat on the toilet – I think that it is the change of environement that does it.

    I do not seem quite as “pissed off” with you world as you guys maybe I am doing something wrong or perhaps I am just wearing rose tinted spectacles.

    • Mark Nugent February 4, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Thanks Keith. I always target bigger companies, especially in recessions. They don’t tend to cut the people development budget so far or so fast. They are bigger for a reason.

Leave a Reply