Every office has at least one. Some offices have dozens or hundreds even. I’m not talking about bathrooms — I’m referring to stupid workplace rules. Things like mandatory meetings and reports, or protocols for expense reporting and hiring. Rules should simplify the things we do every day, not make them more complicated. But if companies care more about protocol than productivity, red tape can take root and choke the joy right out of a healthy culture.
During simplification sessions with organizations all over the world, I share a technique that starts clearing away red tape in half an hour. It begins with this question: If you could kill all the rules that frustrate you or slow down your efficiency, what would they be? With your team or individually, take 30 minutes or so to list those stupid workplace rules. Keep these pro tips in mind:
- Focus on your sphere of control — choose rules that are directly related to your business unit and your daily work, not the larger organization.
- Think in terms of red rules and green rules. Red rules are government-mandated and industry-regulated, so leave those rules as they are. Everything else is a green rule and fair game.
After you’re done, review your list. If you’re doing this technique as a team or in pairs, share it aloud. Do the rules on the list seem like things that anyone would miss? In my experience, many of the “rules” people write down aren’t actually rules — they’re just annoying processes that we assume are rules. Many times, the origin for the stupid workplace rule is someone who is no longer with the company. Use this moment to clear up misperceptions around any rules that aren’t actually formal policy.
Among the “rules,” take a team vote on which one should be killed. Then do it, right on the spot. If possible, kill more than one. If you need permission from someone higher up, then make your case to them. Or do the next best thing: Temporarily suspend the rule for a few weeks or months. If no one misses it and there’s no negative impact, get rid of it permanently. Your team will be thrilled — or at least cautiously optimistic — because this exercise demonstrates that their time and energy is valued.
Excessive rules slow down our productivity and negatively affect morale. Killing stupid workplace rules provides an opportunity to challenge why we do things a certain way, and it can open up much-needed dialog within the company. Leaders get a strong pulse on where change is most needed and people feel empowered to remove obstacles from their daily work. Use the Kill a Stupid Rule technique annually, every quarter, or whenever a new initiative or system introduces new rules to your organization. Rinse and repeat as needed.