We got our house back last week. Our sons, who have been storing most of their belongings in our garage and basement for the better part of the past three years, both settled in to new apartments, taking their stuff with them. Now we just need to sweep up the debris and voila! No more squeezing past a futon to get my bicycle, or climbing over cartons of books to get to the rake. It’s like pouring Drano into a clogged sink.
Those who have seen my office know I can’t stand clutter. This is as true of my virtual space as my physical one. Which is why a recent article from the Economist resonated with me so much. “Decluttering the Company” describes an unfortunate tendency among business organizations to accumulate structures and processes that simply clog the place up, making it difficult to get anything of value done. The author lists some of the usual culprits: committees and other governance structures, meetings, and emails. The problem is not so much with committees or meetings per se. All these things are to some extent necessary. The problem is their kudzu-like indestructibility. Once a committee is formed, or a meeting is scheduled, it is nearly impossible to get rid of. The result is redundancy, wasted time, and excess complexity leading to lack of clarity about where responsibility and accountability lie.
Organizations that find themselves cluttered up should consider a spring cleaning. Time to sort through the committees, governance boards, management layers, and standing meetings, and decide which ones still provide value, which ones need to go to the landfill. Even better is to prevent the clutter in the first place. Committee charters could include a planned sunset date, unless the members strongly believe that there is still value in it. At the very least, organizations should build a regular spring cleaning into their processes. A friend of mine who lived in the same apartment in Chicago for 20 years used to move out and back in again every three years, as a way to force herself to declutter.
Think about our organization. We have a great deal of activity that creates value for us and for our patients and families. But we have to admit we have a lot of clutter. I still have work to do on my garage. When I’m done, what should I work on next?