In our shared experiences, all of us have experienced the absurdness of bureaucracy. There is no doubt that processes are important, and bureaucracy is required to manage a large body of employees, however, forward thinking businesses have already changed their organizational behavior and adopted flatter models to promote innovation and manage change. With advancements of technology, many people expect speed and good user experience; however, even when large organizations that still run on layers of bureaucracy implement the use of new technologies, the implementation is usually far from ideal. Users can continually give feedback, but change never seems to adapt fast enough to user needs. One of the main reasons is due to broken communications.
Many people feel that poor communications in large organizations is unavoidable. They blame it on corporate culture. Many people think that poor communications is a mere inconvenience when they experience the bureaucracy, however, there could be a big waste of resources and other more disastrous consequences.
In 2017, a package of 105 botanical specimens of Australian plants owned by the Jardin des Plantes – and gathered by a French botanist more than 200 years earlier – had been destroyed by the Australian biosecurity officers at the Department of Agriculture.
The specimens were both priceless and irreplaceable, two or three of the specimens might have been species that were unidentified and new to science. While Australian communicated with template bureaucratic statements of regret, it's hard to get information on the chain of events that led to the destruction to learn from the disaster.
Sometimes when shipments are sent without the proper paperwork due to mistakes, when they don’t let it into the country, they just ship it back to the person who sent it. However, it was Australia, with its infamously bureaucratic customs regulations that managed to destroy such significant artefacts more than once.
Today, there is a ban that includes not only botanical specimens, but those from across the museum's vast holdings in areas such as mineralogy, geology, palaeontology and comparative anatomy. Several other museums and organizations also ban sending specimens to Australia.
In many absurd cases which occur, few problems surface to the top and the lessons are never learnt. Even when the problem is common, upper management may not even be aware of its existence. The following are collected stories of dysfunctional organizations and poor communications in which fictional characters are used to describe the encounter to entertain and educate.
Mr De Sina, is a well-known architect who designed many iconic buildings. As he was submitting new designs for a few projects, he realized that some of the guidelines have changed, due to the new head at Building Control.
There are a few projects he had started and he took on several smaller projects, altogether a total of 15 projects to be submitted within a 3 month period. As he was working on the first project to submit, he realized that it was not possible to comply to the guidelines. According to the Code of Practice on Buildability by Building Control Authority, for precast staircase of the power substation, the riser height is 150mm or 175mm & tread width of 275mm or 300mm. However, according to the Fire Safety Bureau, the staircase must be 5m high. According to both the guidelines, it is impossible to fulfil both requests. 150mm or 175mm riser height can never add up to 5m in height.
So Mr De Sina decided to visit the departments to share with them the rule he had to comply, that was conflicting with the other government department. When he approached the Fire Safety Bureau, they informed him that the safety guidelines cannot be negotiated. When he approached Building Control Authority, they informed him that the staircase riser height is to prevent errand contractors to build substandard stairs which will pose a danger to the users.
In both cases, Mr De Sina informed them that the staircase was only for maintenance, and not for everyday use, and relaxing the rules by a few mm would solve the problem, but both departments gave the same answer. “We cannot accede to all the requests that you have. There is a rule, and you need to comply. We cannot show any form for favoritism towards you, even when you have 15 similar projects. If you would like to have a special request, or somehow you cannot comply, you can always submit a request for a waiver.”
According a Minister, the government often seeks to innovate and make life easier for the public. That was why a Municipal Services Office was set up to have a central place to report incidents. Mr De Sina decided to meet the Minister to inform him about the 15 waivers on 15 projects he needed to apply and pay for. The Minister wrote letters to the departments for Mr De Siva.
The next day, Mr De Siva received phone calls from a director in the Building Control Authority. There was a long chat however, the director still persisted that the processes still needed to be followed, and 15 waivers needed to be applied for the 15 projects. In the afternoon, the Fire Safety Bureau also called to inform him the same thing.
Mr De Siva visited the Minister again to inform him that nothing has changed, and the Minister said, “I’m sorry that you encounter such inconvenience. However, I cannot force the different departments to do anything, and they still have to act independently and exercise discretion.”
Mr De Siva was disappointed and could not even apply the 15 waivers at once, and had to do so, one by one, and paid for 15 waivers, and had to have 15 separate meetings to review the waivers to get them approved. He encountered no resistance to reject his waiver, and everything had to go by the book.