As organisations grow, they get fat. As they get fat, the ability to be flexible, grab new possibilities and make subtle shifts in focus or direction is impeded. The impediment causes frustration and results in everyone “working harder” in activities that are possibly not relevant to the prevailing market needs. The irrelevance in the market has a net result of retardation of growth, which in turn puts pressure on the numbers and ultimately the profit being realised. “Cutting back” is usually the next step – in areas like training, research and development and staff reduction (often meaning losing valuable employees). Without necessary skills, the organisational structure is now “groaning”, with an inherent inability to collaborate and to be creative and innovative. Such “obese” organisations seem to be digging their own graves.

Organisational obesity is usually a subtle phenomenon – not initially recognisable at first glance, but slowly comes to light if one prods around structure, power relationships, tradition, communication processes and internal bureaucracy. Organisational politics and quests for power drive disempowerment, departmental silos being formed, the withholding of information and relational factions. These, in turn, cause suspicion, the dismantling of trust, sluggishness and employees just working because they need to earn a salary. Such organisations need liposuction – sucking out the fat, not just to generate savings, but rather also to invest the savings in collaboration.

A certain manufacturing company had freed up hundreds of square meters in the production facility by removing all on-site inventory and shifting responsibility for it to their suppliers. It looked more like an empty warehouse than a manufacturing line. As part of the vision of the company was “community”, they decided to redesign the facility to include this notion. They moved the production line to the centre of the factory and built offices for managers, supervisors and administrative heads around the perimeter with a corridor separating production activities and the offices. Common-use rooms (wash-rooms, coffee rooms, etc.) were located off the corridor, so administrative and production staff used the same facilities and had to get to their respective areas by using the corridor. In fact, this passageway became so busy that it was eventually dubbed “The Street”. The Street brings production and office employees together, facilitates easier change and generates relationships in which creativity and new ideas can come to the fore. It has produced focus and urgency on the things that really matter and has increased productivity significantly.

Convincing ourselves that we can get the job done, grow and develop our brand without confronting some of the embedded bureaucratic and entrenched political behaviours in the organisation is nonsensical. In change processes, these need to be addressed head-on by:

  • Confronting the “empire-builders” and getting them to commit to collaboration
  • Ridding yourself of work that exhausts your efforts – delegate tasks that are not directly related to you performing your leadership role
  • Demonstrating collaborative behaviour – be present with your people
  • Looking constantly for ways to enhance focus and urgency
  • Designing relationships and facilities to engender collaboration

Obese organisations need liposuction – sucking out the fat that impedes their agility and progress. The savings thus gained should be reinvested into collaboration and focus efforts, so that available energy within the company can be used appropriately. Collaboration induces creativity, new ideas, feelings of belonging, perceived contribution value and better productivity.

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