In our never-ending struggle to gain more control over the chaos in our organizations, and with more and more focus on change management, who would think of going in the opposite direction and allowing more freedom?
Let's take a look at a story with some surprising results (sent courtesy of my old friend, Larry Beane).
Thanks to a project initiated by the European Union, seven sities and regions in Europe have completely done away with traffic signs. The originators of this idea must have been on to something. Contrary to the normal expectation that this would result in pandemonium, the accident rate went down!
Now arguably, this may or may not work in a congested city, but it got me thinking about the need for accountability. Perhaps the more rules we inflict, what we're really doing is relieving people of accountability---the paradox being that we need to give people freedom to make them fully accountable. Otherwise, we claim ownership of the problem instead of delegating it.
This is not unlike Toyota's policy of trusting their work teams to solve problems independently, and trusting that if their solutions are wrong, they'll work to correct it and learn from the experience. This is what a learning organization is all about.
This isn't to say we should just abandon all change management processes. On the contrary, providing people with effective processes can lead to successful outcomes. But for each rule we devise, we should consider an alternate approach of holding people accountable for outcomes, and insuring they have the capacity to succeed. Yes, provide processes, training, principles, guidelines, etc. But then focus on outcomes and accountability. And allow for learning-based corrections.
It's a radical thought, but a little anarchy may just bring the control that we need.
Here's the article about the successes of traffic anarchy...
Controlled Chaos: European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News