If you’ve ever sat in your office and wondered whether your organization could be doing things better, you’re probably wrestling with some of the questions my guests today have explored in their book, The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office. Ray Fisman is the Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School, and Tim Sullivan is the editorial director of the Harvard Business Review Press. They’ve come together and really wrestled with some of the paradoxes of working in an organization, so I’m hoping that today we can unpick some of those paradoxes.
In this interview, Ray, Tim and I discuss:
- How management and bureaucracy serve necessary functions
- Why in-person meetings are radically different from emails
- Why technology hasn’t decreased the need for face-to-face interactions
- The fact that innovation isn’t always a good thing
- The importance of diagnosing before treating
(Scroll down for more in-depth podcast notes.)
Listen to my interview with Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan.
0:01:35: Michael asks the authors why they decided to explore the way organizations work. Ray responds that although bureaucracy may not be perfect, it has existed since at least the Egyptian times, and that “it must be good for something” or it would have been phased out by now.
0:03:15: Michael asks why managers are essential to organizational success. Tim says that one of the most important functions they serve is to hold meetings, which are critical because they allow for more in-depth, clearer interactions than do other forms of communication, such as emails.
0:05:49: Ray and Tim discuss the differences in management and process between start-ups and larger organizations.
0:08:01: The three men talk about how modern technology has – and hasn’t – changed the way people work. Ray points out that business executives spend the same amount of time in face-to-face meetings now as they did in 1970. He also notes that, contrary to speculation, rather than doing away with larger organizations, the Internet has made them grow larger.
0:10:19: Tim brings up Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, noting that her decision to require staff to work onsite points to the importance of having “all hands on deck.”
0:11:51: Michael follows up on Tim’s Yahoo example, mentioning that Pixar and Apple have both emphasized creating working environments wherein people could “keep bumping into each other” as a way of promoting creativity.
0:12:34: Michael asks why Ray and Tim focused an entire chapter on “Squelching Innovation.” They explain that undirected innovation in large organizations can lead to a lack of coordination, and that it’s necessary to implement bureaucracy to avoid having everyone off “doing what they want to be doing” without any clear focus or overall vision.
0:15:14: Michael asks the authors what impact they hoped to have with their book. Ray says that it’s important to understand the purpose of organizational processes before trying to change or eliminate them.
0:16:48: Michael follows up his previous question by asking Ray and Tim how writing the book has changed their perspectives on the organizations they work for. Both men agree that they now have a more measured, Zen-like outlook on the way their organizations work.
0:20:15: Michael concludes by asking Ray and Tim to direct listeners to where they can find more information on their work.