I've recently had several ride-sharing experiences that really got me thinking about efficiency (or lack thereof) not only in my day to day personal life, but also in my professional life and how the desire for efficiency impacts our people, products, and services. In my current position, one of my goals is to ensure that QIC runs efficiently on a daily basis. Therefore, I typically approach my work, with a mindset geared toward efficiency - aiming to achieve desired results with as little wasted time and energy as possible. When thinking about efficiency in automated or machine-related environments, the goal is to reduce friction to the greatest extent possible. In collaborative work environments, the goal is much the same however, we're not dealing with machines, but with groups of people, and the friction we're removing are barriers to success.
Certainly being able to work efficiently in a professional capacity has its benefits, indicated by the countless articles on the "X Things Efficient People Do." Efficient workers tend to get promoted more frequently, tend to be better communicators, and often have less work stress while having more time to do the things they enjoy. Individuals who are efficient tend to not multitask (see my multitasking post from last year, here), are good at delegating, use clear and concise communication, schedule their activities, set aside time for rest, and plan their projects among other things. Sounds good, right?
From a business perspective, entire methodologies such as Lean / Six Sigma are dedicated to improving business processes to ensure efficiency. Recently UPS was in the headlines (for revealing that they use computer software to guide their driver's routes, which helps to eliminate unnecessary left-hand turns. The strategy and software helped the company save 20.4 million miles, which obviously translates to significant time, maintenance, and fuel savings across their fleet. Again, all good stuff.
There are however, countless articles on why working efficiently is bad for the individual and even how to go about shaping management's perception of your workload. Reasons individuals may actually suffer from being too efficient stem from having more work piled on because they finished their assigned work quickly, having fellow employees resent them for setting a higher standard, or being seen as a slacker by management because they may not always have work to do - again, because you finished it quickly. Outside of the workplace, the desire for too much efficiency could actually produce greater anxiety, frustration, and stress.
In terms of business management, while a focus on efficiency may be beneficial from a bottom-line or a work output perspective, there are critical aspects of a business that may actually suffer from too great of a focus on efficiency. In automated and machine-related environments it makes sense to always strive for greater efficiency. However, in our team-based environment too much efficiency could create a climate in which interactions between colleagues become unnecessarily limited and colleagues don’t get to know each other. Additionally, if processes are too efficient it may limit individual's ability actively think about situations, problems, and their context and stymie innovation.
While we strive for efficiency in the work we do - better, faster, less expensive - it's important to always remember who actually makes it possible for us to meet our customer's needs. When working in a collaborative setting, efficiency is one important part of the equation, but we can't forget the people who must interact with our processes to create our products and services. Have you experienced collaborative environments that are too efficient? Have you seen an over-emphasis on efficiency hinder innovation and suppress colleague bonding? Let me know!