Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 5;   February 4, 2015: Bottlenecks: I

Bottlenecks: I

by

Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
The Niagara River and cantilever bridge

The Niagara River and the Niagara Cantilever Bridge. The turbulence of the river is due, in part, to the sheer volume of water that must pass through the narrow gorge. So it is with bottlenecks in organizations. When the volume of work that must pass through the "bottleneck" exceeds what the bottleneck can handle, turbulence and chaos are the results.

Photo by Detroit Publishing Co., courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

Some people are bottlenecks. We wait for them to decide, or to approve activities or efforts that truly are beneath their station. They and they alone can report on certain activities. They and they alone can represent those activities in meetings. Their calendars are so full that we have trouble scheduling meetings. In frustration, we call these people names: "micromanagers" or "nanomanagers" or something worse.

But labeling them doesn't solve the problem or offer much of a path to understanding it. As their supervisors, if we want to solve the problem, or as subordinates, if we want to work around it or avoid it, we'll do much better if we understand it.

Let's begin with examples of reasons why some people cannot release these tasks to the care of their subordinates or staff or team members.

Pseudo-parental attachments
Some bottleneckers attained their positions by completing particular projects successfully. They maintain emotional attachments to those projects — attachments not as strong as what parents feel for children, but in other ways analogous. Their concern for the welfare of these "child-projects" makes them reluctant to release them to others. Release, if it comes at all, can be incomplete. Thus the bottlenecker remains responsible for work that can be appropriately delegated to others.
Anxiety
Anxiety about the success of efforts that are properly the responsibility of subordinates need not derive from pseudo-parental attachments. It can arise, for example, if the bottlenecker has a mistakenly low opinion of the capabilities of the person responsible for the effort. Or the bottlenecker might fear that the effort could be at risk for other reasons, such as poor design or poor planning. Whatever the source of anxiety, instead of addressing it, the bottlenecker uses the concern to avoid entrusting the effort to the subordinate.
Political ambitions
Some activities Labeling people as micromanagers
doesn't solve the problem or
offer much of a path
to understanding it
inherently confer political stature on those who represent them to other parts of the organization. An example is reporting on the status of the development of a new product that's expected to form a future raison d'être for the company. Other examples are negotiating for funding or justifying requests for funding increases. Bottleneckers often strive to be the public face of such efforts, even if they aren't actually involved in the performance of the work itself.
Addiction to feeling needed
Although most of us feel good when others express appreciation for our work, some people measure their own self-worth almost solely in terms of how others see them. For these people, maintaining ownership of activities that others value is more than desirable. It is essential to a definition of self-worth. In a real sense, they can become addicted to feeling needed, and incapable of delegating detailed responsibility for efforts that others regard as important.

We'll continue next time with an exploration of tactics for dealing with the bottlenecking pattern.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Bottlenecks: II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrencPdkZJcZdJYHSiJcner@ChacapwFyYCIVwVaHzzqoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The Boott Cotton Mills and Eastern CanalThere Is No Rumor Mill
Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage organizational rumors?
The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio RiverHyper-Super-Overwork
The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
Braided streams in Grewingk Glacier RiverWhy Sidebars Happen
Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
Firefighter lighting grass using a drip torchHow to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting." We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) speaks at a recent Senate hearingComing October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
A man, standing, explaining something to a woman, seatedAnd on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrencQnBKtEvnQFptwWNner@ChacXrXPFwWrgHMiclbXoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.