Can too much production kill your productivity?

On February 23, 2010, in Experiences, Opinion Pieces, by Steffen Itterheim
Note: for some reason, this post was stuck as a draft since April 2009 – just to put this into better perspective, i was still working at EA Phenomic at the time.

Yes, it can. My humble opinion. No, actually, this is my conviction.

I’m not talking about crunch time. About taking on too much work so that everyone has to work overtime. I am talking about planning for (or having to plan for, or simply doing) too much production in order to get all the work done in time, so that most everything else falls by the wayside.

This is my experience which i’ve had confirmed today during an interesting conversation at work. With “experience” i mean that if you work at a larger company you can – depending on the work you do – easily dig into your own line of work and forget everything around you. That isn’t something that gets planned but it’s easy to fall into this mode if everyone around you is swarming around like a busy bee-hive and you just want to get your own damned work done. But, it’s crucial to regularly lift up your head and ask what’s going on. If, company-wide, no such time is planned in and certainly no one cares to stop and look around, watching, listening, mentoring, let alone “leadershipping” then that’s the model most people will follow, eventually. That or busting their heads together. Busy worker bees.

Or so it seems.

What it doesn’t say is that people aren’t bees. They have needs for communication, for understanding and learning. People want to get feedback, they want to participate, they want to be asked and decide for themselves. However, working in a Bee hive accomplishes only work. Communication – and that is my experience – falls completely by the wayside except for the one focused on the work at hand. Some may glee over this perceived efficiency. But i can tell you – it is not an experience that creates happyiness ever-after. The counterweight that communication whole is that all the good ideas, the criticism and desires are shared like outbursts, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, or both. There’s only two options: eat it, or die.

It’s a slow process. Something like that frog put into cold water and heating it until it boils. He won’t jump out – only if the water was hot from the start. What happens is that unless you are fortunate enough to be able to work (mostly) in isolation on isolated parts of the game on your own accord, you are drained into this whole hive of swarming bees. Everyone wants a part of me, it seems. Since everyone is so busy, communication is focused on the essential. Like robots. Only that feelings still get hurt.

It gets worse if the communication fails to instill ownership or a time frame. You can be certain that phrases like “We’ll talk about it this week.” will be the last thing you’ve heard about this topic for the week. Responsibility goes down the drain – unless you have to be responsible. It’s simple and effective – being bombarded with work can make you …. work. Work hard. So hard, in fact, that communicating, cooperating, getting an agreement with other people seems like a drag you want to avoid. As much as possible. Just like everything else that isn’t directly beneficial to your work. Helping others, especially mentoring or training. Offering opportunities for growth and learning. Career planning. And so on.

As a side note: even the busiest bee-hive couldn’t survive for long if the bees would stop their intricate communication dances. With a company, you’ll know that something’s up when the communication still happens but goes sour very quickly, and there’s a lot of talking behind closed doors, respectively awkward silence when you enter a room.

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