Bottlenecks, rubberneckers, and other people who slow you down

Every commuter in Chicago is familiar with the Hillside Strangler. Prior to the early 2000s, this section of interstate where two major 6-lanes of highway merged onto a 3-lane onramp to a 5-lane city-bound highway doubled the commute of everyone. 11 lanes of traffic don’t merge into 5 lanes very well.

The Hillside Strangler was a bottleneck. Everyone had to go through the bottle neck to get work done. Truckers. Commuters. Tourists. School busses. All of the pressure of the cities west side was placed on that 3-lane onramp each morning.

People left an hour earlier just to sit and listen to the radio and sip coffee while they waited their turn.

Conversely, on the ride home everyone hated rubberneckers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in traffic for up to an additional hour just so people in front of me could slow down and watch AAA change a tire or watch two people who got into a fender-bender fill out paperwork.

Both are aggravating and all-too-common for commuters.

And both are aggravating and all-too-common in organizations.

Organizationally, bottlenecks are people, teams, or systems that slow things down at the point of decision making. While a legitimate part of the bureaucratic process they are frustrating to deal with for those who like to (or need to) take action quickly. For people on the front lines bottlenecks always take too long and  the mantra “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” takes over. Which is why those who are the bottlenecks describe their job as herding cats.

Likewise, within every organization there are rubberneckers or gawkers. These are people who like to talk about and look at things more than they like to do them. Sure, they claim it’s all human nature to want to talk about what is going on. But in the meantime they slow everything down.

Every organization I’ve ever worked in has these two problems which slow everything down. Bottlenecks of decision or execution and rubberneckers who slow down to talk. (Or study, or hire a consultant, or pray, or wait for the board to meet, etc.) In many ways these are just the ebbs and flows of work life as you try to balance going about your everyday balance while trying to push forward to grow.

Some organizations solve this by dispersing their teams

Plenty of companies, some Fortune 500, are dispersing their staffs and closing offices to remove rubbernecking while dealing with the obvious issues of bottlenecks, internally. Working remotely, while once laughed at, has become en vogue as a way to keep people working and happy by eliminating the commute and office life altogether.

Would this work in the church? Absolutely. Most church staff members I know look at their offices as more a liability towards reaching their community than an asset. No one went into ministry to be a desk jockey… but that’s most of what we do.

Why aren’t we doing it? Perceptions and trust.

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