Successful companies are those that grow and expand. But bigger companies often need more managers. Excessive layers of management can instill cumbersome bureaucracy in a company, and bureaucracy can become a significant problem for companies when it can causes wasteful resource allocation, decreases productivity, and decelerates innovation.
We can observe that open thinking can challenge or overcome potential problems of bureaucracy. Even if your company isn’t a software company, it’s still possible to adopt the mindset prevalent in free and open source software communities and instill openness within your company’s culture.
We know organizations work best when people inside them sufficiently understand how all the parts of those organizations are working. Achieving this kind of knowledge is easier on a small scale where only a few people need to achieve complete understanding of the entire system. As time passes, however, and experienced employees get promoted to managerial positions, layers of bureaucracy form—and slowly but surely, the company grows into a top-down bureaucratic system in which certain members embody only the knowledge necessary to oversee their specific parts. They carry that knowledge with them wherever they go, and imparting it is often a one-to-one (or one-to-few) activity. This ensures the bureaucracy is slow to to change.
We can fight this tendency by following the example that open source software communities have set for us. In these communities, people often must work with others who are located around the world (and thus in different timezones). If someone from, say, another timezone does not understand the code for a particular project, he or she would have to wait for several hours for a response. This situation tends to compel everyone in the organization to write modular and readable code. It ensures decentralization of knowledge (through copious documentation and the establishment of knowledge commons) and makes it easy for new contributors to understand and participate.
This situation also forces people to be responsible for their own actions and adopt decentralized decision making practices. Having a culture of accountability, which forces people to be responsible for themselves, allows managers to relax and let go of many trivial decisions. In the long run, managers will also be able to trust the employees more, allowing them to participate in major decision makings and listen to their trusted opinions. Slowly but surely, people will start to assume the best intentions of everyone, and this would significantly reduce the effects of politics. Overall, the company would become a productive and respectful place to innovate and work in.
Imagine yourself as a business software customer. The software you pay for is unstable and always crashes. You visit the vendor’s site to look for a feedback form. It doesn’t exist. So you try emailing the company’s support team. Days later, you have yet to receive a reply. You are angry and upset, so you go to a software review site and give the software a bad rating.