GTD in Organizations: Benefits and ChallengesAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Altough Getting Things Done is essentially an individual oriented management method, more and more organizations, companies and work teams are trying to incorporate the GTD culture among their members. It might seem obvious that, when each worker enjoys a sense of clarity and control with respect to their work, the collective result benefits to a large extent.
Benefits from a collective GTD
Michael Doland, GTD consultant, ensures that when a group of people collectively implements GTD, benefits are obtained in at least three areas:
- Accountability. Someone who implements GTD assumes responsibility over the commitments they acquire and has more control when choosing the next task to get done. When GTD gets to a certain degree of maturity inside the organization’s culture, each member of the group knows that a request on a colleague’s inbox will have the right level of attention at the right time. Accountability leads to a high level of trust between colleagues, and that’s crucial to achieve a productive environment. Even an open work environment can become productive if everyone knows the implicit agreements that rule the way everyone works.
- Focus. A basic principle of GTD is to put everything that draws our attention in a trusted storage system, out of our mind. This way, our mind clears and doesn’t need to get distracted by all the information we are exposed to nowadays (emails, blogs, social networks, etc.) When there are no unprocessed things and everything is in a controlled environment, then we have the ability of focusing 100% on the present. GTD lets us focus on results and next actions, and prevents us from working reactively. When this focus ability affects everyone in the group, results are achieved faster and with less stress.
- Adaptability. To be competitive nowadays, it is essential to be capable and know how to adapt to the changes. GTD provides the individual with the capacity of knowing how to work and manage the unexpected, redefine priorities and regain balance quickly when circumstances change. When the members of a team practice GTD, they have developed a greater sense of perspective and control, which leads them to react conveniently with surprises (The science behind GTD, section four).
When these effects become rooted in the organization’s culture, both managers and team members have the peace of mind about the fact that everyone will do the things that must be done, at the time they should be done.
Challenges in today’s organisations
Peter Drucker, father of management, assured that the critical skill of a knowledge worker is to be capable of defining his work (What is the task?). David Allen, creator of GTD, ensures that, in addition, this is a meta-competence, that is to say, a skill that improves and enlarges the rest of the competences.
However, it’s not that easy to introduce the GTD culture in today’s organizations. The main reason is that GTD places a strong emphasis on distributed leadership, and that creates a great resistance to the more traditional managers.
According to the adaptability, opportunism and self-organization philosophy that characterizes GTD, the person who’s in the best disposition to do the task should take the commitment to do it (pull) as opposed to the traditional assignment of tasks (push) . Pull systems iare prevailing in all kinds of productive environments: component manufacturing (Toyota’s just-in-time method), project management (Agile methodologies), software development (Extreme Programming, Kanban), and even in the creation of companies (Lean Startups).
It is safe to say that some components of GTD would need to be adjusted to the collective environment. To facilitate coordination among team members, some part of the individual information should be available to the rest of the team. That way, when processing an action, each individual would have to decide if it is something personal or shared with the organization.
A shared reference system would allow any team member to locate information quickly from a few keywords. A shared calendar would allow to establish collective events without affecting individual commitments. Collective tools like brainstorming or mind mapping would help plan projects more efficiently.
The Waiting For list would become a shared storage of actions, which would be picked up by the first available person with the appropriate knowledge. To encourage their execution, it might be possible for these actions to have a specific weight that would determine some type of reward to the one who finally gets them done. The actions that weren’t done would give us clues of possible inefficiencies in the formation of the team or in the planning of the project.
From an organization point of view, GTD can be an effective method to face new problems and opportunities that are constantly coming out ( talent management, decision making, new technologies, competition, etc.) because it allows employees to assume responsibility of what they do, focus on their work and adapt to changes.
Many companies are introducing GTD training programs among their employees, to implant a GTD-oriented culture. They usually begin by conducting limited-time experiments with small groups of volunteer employees. This way, they can measure the results before getting off their culture the classic sentence “when everyone’s responsible, no one is”.