The battle against Zoomocracy

ALSO: mmhmm, Teams' flesh pyramid, toxic cultures

This week I read the forthcoming new book by London Business School’s Gary Hamel. It was preparation for a podcast that goes out this week (subscribe here to hear it as soon as it goes live). The book is a well-reasoned dismantling of business bureaucracy.

Silently and without any of us noticing many businesses are struggling, having become overwhelmed with bureaucracy.

In a stat that is buried away in the book, Hamel and his co-author Michele Zanini say that a third of the whole US wage bill is middle managers, and their view is that eliminating them is the quickest way to stimulate innovation. They talk about the familiar burden of layers of management, where managers report into managers into managers, increasingly disconnected from the frontline workers actually doing the work.

Hamil gives 10 questions that help us assess our own organisation’s Bureaucratic Mass Index. In the podcast discussion we talk a lot about the disruption that has ensued since he submitted his manuscript - and how the current moment presents an opportunity.

His relentless focus on unproductive layers of supervision initially seemed simplistic to me but I was fortunate enough to be a on a call this week that Tom Goodwin (provocateur at media group Publicis) and Netflix culture deck supremo Patty McCord this week. Tom asked me whether I felt every company should set about creating something as definitive as the Netflix culture deck (my previous chat with Patty is here in text & audio forms btw). As I explained, while the rigour of going through that thought process could be helpful, maybe the quickest thing that any of us could learn from Netflix is an obsessive elimination of bureaucracy. Netflix were convinced that the thing that would turn them into Blockbuster was if they allowed the old relationship (below) to catch up with them.

Companies start as insurgents, moving quickly and they become laden with rules and process. There’s clearly an application of this for the world we’re creating right now. I’ve taken to asking people how many hours a week they are spending on video calls. It astonishes me how many people say ‘over 30’. As Cal Newport told us cognitive breakthroughs commonly come from Deep Work. If we’re doing all of our work out loud, spoken on video calls we’re just talking to ourselves about what we already know.

Reading through Gary Hamel’s BMI questions might give you reason to ask whether you could do anything to eliminate your own Zoom-based bureaucracy. Netflix found that getting rid of middle managers (and giving workers more power) seemed to do the trick.


New podcast - a discussion on what we can learn about team dynamics by understanding neuroscience. If you’ve ever found yourself talking about ‘purpose’ or psychological safety this will give you a very different take on the way these things work in practice.

Microsoft Teams has caused me some incredibly stressful moments in this lockdown, here they’ve come out fighting with some improvements. One of which, called Teams Together, looks ok in theory. It shows all of the heads of your whole team rendered in one fleshy pyramid. I love imagining how much time a marketer spent choosing ethnicities in this bizarre image.


Make Work Better is created by Bruce Daisley, workplace culture enthusiast. You can find more about Bruce’s book, podcast and writing at the Eat Sleep Work Repeat website. If you’re looking to facilitate a leadership discussion about work culture - or just a lunchtime talk to the team, get in touch!