4 Time-Wasters of Ineffective Organizations


Diverse Business People Having a Meeting in the Office“The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.” — Stephen Covey

Some teams and organizations fight fires all the time.  They are in constant fire-fighter mode.

And they are ineffective.

Ineffective Organizations Fight Fires, Fight Each Other, Meet All the Time, and Are the Last to Know

Some teams are always in meetings.  Everything is a meeting.  They, too, are ineffective.  Some teams are always fighting or feuding.  And they are ineffective.  And some teams are clueless.  They didn’t get the memo, or they don’t have the latest and greatest information.  And they are ineffective.

In The Essential Drucker, Peter Drucker writes about the 4 major time-wasters caused by organizational and management deficiency.

The 4 Major Time-Wasters of Ineffective Management

According to Drucker, here are the 4 major time-wasters caused by management and organizational deficiency:

  1. Lack of system or foresight – One time waster is a recurring crisis.  This means there’s a lack of system foresight to anticipate and respond effectively.
  2. Overstaffing – Another time waster is friction and feuding among teams.  This is usually a sign of overstaffing.
  3. Malorganization – Another time waster is too many meetings.  Too many meetings are often a sign of the wrong organizational structure.
  4. Malfunction in information – Another significant time waster is bad information.  People need accurate, relevant, timely information to do do their jobs well.

1. Lack of System or Foresight

If you’re facing a recurrent crisis, then it’s a lack of system foresight.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“The first organizational time-wasters result from lack of system or foresight.  The symptom to look for is the recurrent ‘crisis,’ the crisis that comes back year after year

A crisis that recurs a second time is a crisis that must not occur again.  The annual inventory crisis belongs here.  That with the computer we now can meet it even more ‘heroically’ and at greater expense then we could in the past is hardly a great improvement. 

A recurrent crisis should always have been foreseen.  It can therefore either be prevented or reduced to a routine that clerks can manage.  The definition of a ‘routine’ is that it makes unskilled people without judgment capable of doing what it took near-genius to do before; for a routine puts down in systematic, step-by-step form what a very able person learned in surmounting yesterday’s crisis.”

2. Overstaffing

Time-waste is a byproduct of overstaffing.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“Time-waste often results from overstaffing.  A workface may, indeed, be too small for the task.  And the work then suffers, if it gets done at all.  But this is not the rule. 

Much more common is the workforce that is too big for effectiveness, the workforce that spends, therefore, an increasing amount of time ‘interacting’ rather than working.”

A Reliable Symptom of Overstaffing

If you’re spending more than a small time on feuds and friction, then it’s a sign of overstaffing

Via The Essential Drucker:

“There is a reliable symptom of overstaffing.  If the senior people in the group—and of course the manager in particular – spend more than a small fraction of their time, maybe one-tenth, on ‘problems of human relations,’ on feuds and frictions, on jurisdictional disputes and questions of cooperation, and so on, then the workforce is almost certainly too large. 

People get into each other’s way.  People have become an impediment to performance, rather than the means thereto. 

In a lean organization people have room to move without colliding with one another and can do their work without having to explain it all the time.”

3. Mal-organization

If you’re spending all your time in meetings, it’s a symptom of malorganization.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“Another common time-waster is malorganization.  Its symptom is an excess of meetings.  Meetings are by definition a concession to deficient organization.  For one either meets or one works.  One cannot do both at the same time. 

In an ideally designed structure (which in a changing world is of course only a dream), there would be no meetings.  Everybody would know what he needs to know to do his job.  Everyone would have the resources available to him to do his job. 

We meet because people holding different jobs have to cooperate to get a specific task done.  But above all, meetings have to be the exception rather than the rule. 

An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done.  Wherever a time log shows the fatty degeneration of meeting – whenever, for instance, people in an organization find themselves in meetings a quarter of their time or more – there is time wasting malorganization.”

Too Many Meetings Signal the Wrong Org Structure

Meetings should not be the main demand of a knowledge worker’s time.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“As a rule, meetings should never be allowed to become the main demand on a knowledge worker’s time.  Too many meetings always bespeak poor structure of jobs and the wrong organizational components.  

Too many meetings signify that work that should be in one component is spread over several jobs or several components.  They signify that responsibility is diffused and that information is not addressed to the people who need it.”

4. Malfunction in Information

Bad information is another malfunction.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“The last major time-waster is malfunction in information.  The administrator of a large hospital is plagued for years by telephone calls from doctors asking him to find a bed for one of their patients who should be hospitalized. 

The admissions people ‘knew’ that there was no empty bed.  Yet the administrator almost invariably found a few.  The admissions people simply were not informed immediately when a patient was discharged. The floor nurse knew, of course, and so did the people in the front office who presented the bill to the departing patient. 

The admissions people, however, got a ‘bed count’ made every morning at 5:00 A.M. – while the great majority of patients were being sent home in midmorning after the doctors had made the rounds. 

It did not take genius to put this right; all it needed was an extra carbon copy of the chit that goes from the floor nurse to the front office.”

Time-Wasting Management Defects Can Take Long, Patient Work to Correct

Some management defects can take a long time to correct.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“Time-wasting management defects such as overstaffing, malorganization, or malfunctioning information can sometimes be remedied fast. 

At other times, it takes long, patient work to correct them.  The results of such work are, however, great – and especially in terms of time gained.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • There’s 4 main signs of management deficiency:  1) lack of system foresight, 2) overstaffing, 3) mal-organization, and 4) malfunction in information.
  • Meetings should never be allowed to be the main demand.  Meetings should not be the main demand of a knowledge worker’s time.  If the meetings are producing results that’s one thing.  But if the purpose of each meeting becomes planning another meeting, you have a problem.
  • If you’re spending too much time on interpersonal issues, it’s a sign of overstaffing.  If you’re spending all your time on feuds and friction, and fighting over space, it’s a sign of overstaffing.  Lean organizations stay focused on the results and either collaborate as a team, or at least don’t get in each other’s way (they’re too busy working on their own work.)
  • If you keep running into the same crisis, it’s a lack of system foresight.   Surprises happen, but if you keep running into the same surprises, then there’s a lack of system foresight.  It means you don’t know the system you’re in and you don’t know how it works and you’re not anticipating events in the systems.
  • If you don’t have accurate, relevant, timely information, then you’re flying blind.  People can’t do their jobs effectively without the right information.  Bad information wastes everybody’s time.  If you don’t have accurate, relevant, timely business information, then you can’t make effective business decisions.

You’re part of the problem or part of the solution.

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  1. In my experience (when I actually “worked,”) the meetings one was a big time-waster.

    “An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done.” Exactly!

    That’s why I’m so ragingly successful – I meet with only myself.

  2. I laughed at the bit about people who are not working have to much time to interact – so conflict between people shows over staffing. Mwahahaha, so true!

    I’m not going to share your words of wisdom with my boss, he might fire me.

  3. “Meetings should never be allowed to be the main demand” – can you please keep it a secret? they might hear you… shhhhhhh.
    Oh my… meetings… I know there are cases when these are the only way, but way too many times folks use meetings when much faster methods can save tons of time – emails, for example…. or a phone call.
    Call that meeting off!

  4. I’m so glad I’m done with corporate jobs and long meetings. Lack of foresight smacked me in the forehead because my blog hosting is down and I stupidly forgot to do back-ups so I’ll be struggling with this all of today I’m sure!

  5. I agree with the sentiments against too many meetings. It’s almost always an unnecessary bureaucracy. It’s rare that anything of value gets done. When something valuable does take place it often take way to long to get to the point. Meetings require a strong leader who knows how to get the most out of his/her staff within a set time limit. 10 minutes max. unless it’s urgent.

  6. Hi J.D.
    Too many meetings are the one I see most back in my days with working at a JOB. Management call for meeting weekly 45 mins. meeting that are not always needed; then there is always that one person that wasted half of the meeting time.
    I wish those managers in my pass would have read this blog post.
    Thank you,
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  7. I do think the meetings concept is dependent on what type of meetings you are having. There are “coordination” meetings and then there are “pairing” meetings. The pairing meetings mean that you are getting work done, but in a collaborative type environment. The way to tell if it’s effecitive is to ask what the outcome is after most meetings. Outcomes are something actually concrete.

    Of course, if pairing meetings are less efficient than doing your work separately, then they have lost their purpose. Seems there is a max amount of people in these types of meetings. 2 and 3 people can be good. Many more and you need roles or a good coordinator using some of the other techniques on this site. Six thinking hats for example.


  8. @ Jannie

    I like meetings when they’re sharing stories and experience or some meaningful interaction. when meetings are just a habit and they’re overhead for simple information exchange, that sucks.

    @ Louisa

    Although it’s not always true, I’ve run into it often enough to see the pattern.

    @ Alik

    I find it’s usually people don’t have clarity on their questions or on the outcomes. Once you know the questions and what you want to accomplish, then you can choose the right method.

    @ Daphne

    I’m sorry to hear about your blog hosting. That sounds like a nightmare. Good luck!

    @ Gennaro

    Great point on the leader framing and scoping. That makes an enormous difference in results and energy.

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you. While meetings can be productive, I don’t usually see working meetings. Instead , I see meetings talking about work. I do think meetings are good for building rapport and helping people synch up, but I don’t like when they become friction for results.

    @ Rob

    Great point on the outcomes and I agree. I think meetings fail when there’s a lack of clarity. If you know what you want to accomplish, then you know who needs to be there and you can keep everybody focused. When people aren’t engaged on the outcomes, it wastes their time and it’s an energy drain.

  9. Great points. I wonder how much businesses focus on the intersection of Process and People development.

Comments are closed.