Distribute Work Evenly


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A twenty-mule team distributes work and communication evenly.

...an organization is working to organize in a way that makes the environment as enjoyable as possible and which makes the most effective use of human resources.

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It is easy to depend on just a few people to carry most of the organization's burdens. Managers like this because it minimizes the number of interfaces they need to manage. And some employees strive to do all they can out of a misplaced feeling of monumental responsibility. In fact, we find that ProducerRoles tend to have stronger communication networks than other support roles.

But if this unevenness continues, it is difficult for a heavily loaded role to sustain the communication networks necessary to healthy functioning of the enterprise as a whole. Resentment might build between employees who don't feel like they are central to the action. And the central people may easily burn out.

Define the communication intensity ratio as the ratio of the number of communication paths of the busiest role to the average number of communication paths per role. Empirically, one finds that the organization has a problem — some unhealthiness — if this ratio becomes too large.

Therefore:

Try to keep the communication intensity ratio to two or less. (We have found that it isn't easy to get much below two.) The easiest way to do it is to have FewRoles. It also helps to identify the ProducerRoles and eliminate any deadbeat roles. You can also identify all the communication to the most central role and see which are really necessary.

Some of this communication overhead isn't very subtle, and these cases are easy to identify. You can eliminate redundant or misdirected communication using simple and direct methods, without going to the level of deep structure or principles of the organization, in these cases.

Other situations take more finesse and generativity, building on other patterns in this pattern language.

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If an organization becomes so out of balance that the work is concentrated in a few people, the organization is more likely to have spots of burnout. Such unevenness might also point to deeper problems in the organization. For example, the more lightly loaded people may not have the technical skills or the human interaction skills to be able to integrate into the larger team or organization. Personality differences can be compensated for with human effectiveness training programs that help communication from the level of appreciating differences to the level of effective presentation. Skill mismatches can be dealt with by re-assigning people or by training.

Unbalance may also point to insecurity in the person or clique that tries to take on all the work. Such insecurity may manifest itself as lack of trust of others. Encounters between the insecure parties and the rest of the project polarizes the positions of each, and a form of schismogenesis may set in--the rise of factions in the organization (see TheOpenClosedPrincipleOfTeams). It may show up either as the insecure subgroup withdrawing, or as in the insecure subgroup trying to hijack the project by strong-arming people into doing their bidding. This may be accompanied by some of the dynamics of burnout; e.g., shutting down communication with "outsiders." Patterns like GateKeeper, WiseFool, and Patron can help avoid this.

In any of these dysfunctions, it is the job of the ManagerRole to counsel the insecure or dysfunctional parties and to take strong intervention. The fix is often intricate and time-consuming.

This pattern follows ProducerRoles and ProducersInTheMiddle, which are prerequisite to ShapingCirculationRealms. This pattern itself is a refinement of ShapingCirculationRealms. FewRoles makes this pattern happen.

This pattern can be implemented and elaborated by using ThreeToSevenHelpersPerRole and ResponsibilitiesEngage.
Here are data on communication intensity ratio for some of our early research subjects. We find that the successful organizations tend to be near the origin of the graph.


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