🗂 Lack of trust breeds bureaucracy

“When DEC was small a hardware engineer could go to the software department and ask whether the supporting software would be ready in six months so that the product could be launched. The software manager would say, “Sure.” The hardware manager would then tell me that he “knew” that this meant nine months because “he is always a bit optimistic but he will get it done, so I can plan accordingly.” As DEC became large and more differentiated, the same scenario would no longer produce the same result. The software manager would again say, “Sure,” but the hardware manager would tell me that he was unsure whether that meant six months, nine months, twelve months, or never, because some other priorities might bump his project. The software manager was now a stranger, embedded in other organizational units, someone with an unknown personality. The hardware manager now had to resort to getting a written commitment so that he could hold the software manager to it. Bureaucracy was born. Now deals have to be negotiated with strangers, trust levels erode, and political processes begin to replace teamwork in pursuit of common goals. The subunits become power centers, and their leaders become barons with an increasingly local agenda. Echelons of supervision, midlevel management, and senior management develop their own norms and force the communications going up and down the hierarchy into certain forms. For example, engineers learn that they have to put their design ideas into cost-benefit language to get middle management to look at proposals, and middle management learns that it has to show the benefits of the project in terms of the particular financial issues the CEO is grappling with at the time.”

From The Corporate Culture Survival Guide: New and Revised Edition,, @cote