I draw cartoons about Taylorism almost on a weekly basis. I think it’s comedy gold.

These days Taylorism (also known as scientific management) is a semi-derogatory term for work practices that break down work processes into separate tasks with the aim of increasing efficiency.
You encounter in almost all organisations in some shape or form.

It was initially used in manufacturing (factory assembly line is the quintessential example), but it soon spread into other types of organisations as well.

There is nothing wrong with efficiency of course. But when Tayloristic efficiency thinking is the ONLY way to design work we get into trouble.

How Taylorism ruins organisations

employee insight ignored cartoon

Unnecessary hierarchy. When an employee who is the expert can not make a decision because she is not at the right level in the hierarchy to make a decision. We get slow organisations and potentially counterproductive solutions.

Krasnovian football unnecessary hierarchy

Unnecessary silos. It’s when different departments dealing with the same customer/patient/service user don’t talk to each other. We get unsatisfied customers and, ironically, inefficient organisations.

Output vs outcome cartoon

Misleading measurements. A real life example: evaluating social workers by how many phone calls they process as opposed to actually tackling the underlying problems of the service users.
We get not only inefficiency, but unintended consequences. For example when a homeless person who was “processed” by a social worker becomes a “service user” with the hospital, or the police.

Complexity spaghetti outside a linear cube

Government policies that have unintended consequences. Many problems that governments need to deal with are really complex. Policy interventions that come from a mechanistic view of the world are prone to spectacularly misfire.

The real culprit: Mechanistic thinking

Frederick Winslow Taylor was a mechanical engineer. Mechanistic thinking has its place, but today it gets applied in places where it can cause serious harm.

Fortunately terms like complexity and systems thinking have gained more ground both in private and public sectors. Agile and design thinking are methodologies that are more suitable for work that cannot be designed in a mechanistic way. Self-management principles are slowly gaining ground (for a great example in healthcare, check out Buurtzorg).

But our minds have been swimming in mechanistic worldview for decades. It’s embedded in organisations, processes, frameworks…

It’s this simplistic mechanistic worldview I want to shake through my cartoons. (If you talk about these themes, you might be interested in this collection of Tayloristic cartoons).

– Virpi

PS. Mr Taylor, I still love you!Frederick Taylor cartoon
After all this Taylorism bashing I must make a confession: I LOVE Tayloristic efficiency. Some work processes totally need a smart mechanical engineer to make them better. These days a lot of those processes are being taken care of machines, of course, but there is a certain joy in designing them!

Not a fan of Taylorism?
Then check out my book project!

I’m working on a cartoon book about Taylorism and its alternatives with the working title The Confused CEO’s Guide to 21st Century Organisations. (But maybe I should call it “Goodbye Mr Taylor: why we need to rethink our organisations”..? What do you think?)

It’s a crowdfunding project (75% funded at the time of me writing this). You can support it as an individual OR as an organisation (and pledge more and get the cartoon bank for work use as a reward).

IF you have already pledged your support: stay tuned for an email update!
(It includes a surprise)

Support the book!