Aug 29, 2015

Is Your Office DOPE?
A lot of us are in the office every day. The office is where the "work" is, and it's also where the people are. So, you'll probably be dealing with a lot of people in the course of completing your work. This is unavoidable.

But, when was the last time you were able to do something entirely on your own, without the need to reach out to one or more colleagues to get the job done? Wouldn't that be nice?

Don't get me wrong, collaboration is a great thing, and there are some truly amazing processes and technologies that have been introduced in the workplace to capitalize on this trend. I am not against collaboration. Far from it.

Instead, it is the idea of collaboration-by-default that deserves a second look, because it is this assumption that is the basis for a DOPE culture in today's modern office.

What is a DOPE culture?

DOPE is short for "Depend On People Environment". This self-evident title describes what happens when people with highly specialized skills develop a culture of relying on each other to do every part of their job.

This type of culture isn't so easily created - it takes time and pressure to achieve it. You don't get there just by having meeting to ensure everybody is on the same page with their work. These are generally a good idea. Instead, a true DOPE culture is based on the assumption that all work tasks are blocked until they receive approval, information, or both from one or more people.

This is a truly debilitating culture for a modern, fast paced work environment, and can lead to the belief that a team is understaffed. In most cases this is not true, and simply un-DOPEing the team will restore amazing levels of productivity.

Let's look at an example

Software development is a topic that is close to my heart, so I'll start there. Virtually any software project will go through some kind of requirements gathering phase, which is essential to gain an understanding of the software "thing" that needs to be built: what it's supposed to do, and how it's supposed to do it.

Meetings with stakeholders are a natural way to fill in this gap. Unfortunately, they are also a very expensive and inefficient way of transferring information, because they are reliant upon everybody occupying the same space and time in order for an information exchange to take place.

What happens before this pivotal meeting takes place? Do people have access to any relevant information to start their tasks before getting together, or is the meeting organizer truly the gatekeeper of it all? This is a classic example of a DOPE culture.

DOPE is expensive

If you're a manager, you should take a close look at this situation the next time it happens, and count up all of the hours of non-productive time that are being accrued by your team. If you could find a way to re-allocate these non-productive hours, it would be like having an extra person (or two) joining the team. Really, I'm not kidding.

Sometimes, making an improvement can be as easy as looking at the pieces of information that are shared over email, and making them available to the entire team, while they are being worked on, in some kind of team sharing site. A Wiki site is also a great tool for developing shared information sources that can be accessed by anybody on an as-needed basis.

DOPE is addictive and bad for your health

Have you ever noticed how some people just have a knack for figuring things out on their own and working independently? I am a big proponent of the idea that self-reliance is learned behaviour, which can be adopted by anybody. Just like staying away from drugs and alcohol is a healthy habit, learning how to avoid leaning too heavily on other people to do your work is a good practice to adopt at the office.

Before you pick up the phone (or fire off an email) to ask somebody a question, ask yourself how much of it you can figure out on your own, to make it easier for the other person to respond to you without much effort. This is an excellent way to begin breaking the bonds of your DOPE culture.

DOPE is a gateway drug to something much worse

Any person who is exposed to a DOPE culture over the long term will be at a higher risk of developing more serious problems in their performance at work. When a person loses their self esteem because they are unable to complete any tasks on their own, they will gradually develop an accompanying sense of apathy towards their work, which is a highly destructive habit for productivity and job satisfaction.

Fortunately, this cycle can be broken by determined managers and employees who appreciate what it feels like to be self reliant and in control of their own productivity. If you're a junior employee who is just starting out in your career, look for coworkers who have some entrepreneurial experience, and ask them politely if you can shadow them for a while to see how they face their day-to-day challenges.

You might be surprised at the level of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking they apply to solve complex problems. This is the joy of doing good work - it gives you a way to express yourself creatively and gives you the confidence that you can face any challenge and find a way through it.
This is how I approach most of my own work. Before asking people for help, I try to reduce the "what I need help for" parts to simple chunks that can be framed in direct, easy-to-understand questions.

This helps speed up the pace of my work, and lets me work on other parts of a problem without being blocked by needing an answer from somebody else. It's a win-win scenario, and I get to enjoy my work a lot more, because I know that it's mine to do and nobody else's.

Does your office have a DOPE culture? How do you feel about working in it? Share your story in the comments!


1 comment:

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