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Organizational Ergonomics: The Key to Team Wellbeing and Efficiency

12 July 2024
  • Business
  • UX

Team Conflux

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12 July 2024
  • Business
  • UX

Those who follow Conflux know that we are involved in user experience (UX) design for digital products and services

But those who know us understand that continuous improvement is fundamental for us. Improving our internal processes is the foundation to ensure that everything functions properly. After all, if we work well, this well-being reflects on the service we provide to our clients as an efficient team is a happy team, and a happy team produces high-quality products and services.

It would be nice if what has been expressed so far was just a very obvious discussion about corporate well-being.

In reality, it is not always so. Not all companies have internalized into their corporate culture  the optimization of their processes and the well-being of their team.

What do these differences depend on?

The Importance of Organizational Culture for Business Success

The concept of corporate or organizational culture is borrowed from cultural anthropology and describes the socialization processes that occur within families, communities, schools, religious institutions, and companies (Williams, 1983). Simplifying, the culture of a company is considered as its personality.

“Organizational culture is the coherent set of fundamental assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, and developed by learning to deal with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel about those problems.” Schein

According to Westrum, different types of organizational cultures can be summarized in: 

  • Pathological organizational culture: it is the culture in which new ideas are suppressed, those who make mistakes are ignored or punished, people are not consulted and if they report a problem, they become the problem.
  • Bureaucratic organizational culture: new ideas represent a problem as “it has always been done this way.” People are listened to if it cannot be avoided, mistakes lead to temporary remedies, and responsibilities are compartmentalized. 
  • Proactive organizational culture: new ideas are welcome, it is the company that actively seeks information, educates to report problems, responsibility is shared, and mistakes lead to active reforms.

“Culture develops around the internal and external problems that groups face and becomes increasingly abstract until it translates into the general and fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality, time, space, activity, and human relationships” (Schein)

Building a Just Culture: Promoting Safety and Learning

The so-called “Just Culture” can only develop in proactive organizational cultures, promoting an environment where employees feel safe to report problems and contribute to continuous improvement. According to Reason, author of the famous book Human Error, Just Culture is “an atmosphere of trust in which people are encouraged, or even rewarded, for providing essential information for safety but where they are also aware of where the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior must be drawn.” This is based on Seneca’s principle “errare humanum est,” thus, mistakes cannot be escaped, but one must learn from them and not punish those who make them except for mistakes objectively judged as unacceptable that concern: serious negligence, intentional violations, and harmful actions.

The 3 Pillars of Ergonomics: Physical, Cognitive, and Organizational

The studies at the base of this approach, which make such a change in mindset possible, are based on aspects of human factors, inspired by an increasingly broad conception of ergonomics as a science that not only examines the physical human-machine-environment work interaction but also includes psychological and behavioral aspects.

“Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline that studies the interaction between man and other elements of a system and applies theories, principles, data, and methods to the design to enhance human well-being and the overall performance of the system” (IEA, 2000).

According to the definition of IEA (International Ergonomics Association), ergonomics includes three main areas: 

  1. Physical ergonomics: involves designing work equipment and environments to reduce the risk of injury and work-related illnesses. 
  2. Cognitive ergonomics: at Conflux, we know it well! It includes aspects of UX and HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), focusing on how people interact with systems and how to improve this interaction. 
  3. Organizational ergonomics: focuses on creating a work environment that best supports the team, making processes smoother and reducing stress.

Various technical standards provide guidelines on how to design work systems. For example, the standard UNI EN ISO 6385/2017 – Ergonomic principles in the design of work systems, establishes the basic principles of ergonomics, providing the basic guidelines for the design of work systems. The standard describes an integrated and systemic approach to design with attention to people, human wellbeing, safety and health. In this approach, the development of existing skills and the acquisition of new ones is important to enable continuous improvement.

Key Concepts of Organizational Ergonomics

Organizational ergonomics focuses on how business systems and processes can be designed to improve employee well-being and overall efficiency. The key concepts are: 

  • Adapting work processes to people: it is not the person who must adapt to the job but rather the processes must be designed to adapt to the abilities and limits of team members. This reduces the risk of overload and allows everyone to give their best.
  • Team involvement: actively involving people in decisions makes them feel an integral part of the company’s success, increasing engagement and satisfaction, and the fact that team members themselves know the problems that can be encountered and therefore can give more targeted contributions. 

Feedback and iteration: adopting a continuous cycle of feedback allows us to be flexible and address difficulties before they occur.

Practical Tools and Techniques for Implementing Organizational Ergonomics

There are various methods and tools for implementing organizational ergonomics, which can be combined to achieve the best results. These are tools and methods that we know well and that we also use in projects with our clients. 

For example, you can use: 

 

  • Co-design workshops: involving the team directly in the design of processes to co-create solutions. The co-design approach also serves to strengthen the sense of belonging and participation. 
  • Workflow analysis: using the principles and tools of organizational ergonomics to identify and remove inefficiencies, ensuring that the processes are adapted to the needs of our team. 
  • Feedback tools: implementing tools to constantly collect input and feedback from the team and using this information to structure new solutions to be continuously monitored. 
  • Design thinking: a methodology that places the user at the center of the design process. Design thinking is based on five main phases (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test). This nonlinear and iterative process allows us to quickly adapt to changes.

Case Study: How We Transformed Our Company with Organizational Ergonomics

Let’s bring a concrete example. 

Rapid business growth led to a review of our internal organizational structure, moving from a flat organizational structure to a team-based organizational structure. 

Such a change impacts all activities, including rules, roles, and responsibilities, and also determines a change in the flow of information within the company. 

It is essential, therefore, to monitor this change and make it increasingly efficient. It is not always possible to anticipate and foresee (and thus prevent) all possible errors. 

We started this article by talking about Just Culture. 

Just Culture, in the face of an error, asks: what happened? Why? What can we do to prevent it from recurring? And it is precisely from here that we started our analysis.

 

Once we realized an inefficiency in our internal process of project management and staffing, we began with a mapping of the entire current process. 

To do this, we used a revision of the FMEA, a methodology used to analyze processes that can also be used in a preventive phase. Following the phases of this methodology, we broke down the process into simpler subsets. We listed all possible pain points for each of these, dividing them into causes and effects. 

We integrated the FMEA into another design process model: the Double Diamond.

 

To have the broadest possible viewpoint and to validate this mapping, we structured a survey sent to all of us (divergent analytical phase). 

Then, with a team of 6 people from middle management, including Team Leaders and Project Managers, we conducted an activity to discuss the mapping and for each pain point, we evaluated the probability of occurrence, the severity of the effect, and the ease with which such an error could be intercepted (convergent analytical phase). 

All this allows us to identify the priority risk index (RPN). 

Errors perceived with a higher priority were then analyzed, giving way to the divergent creative phase where different answers were given to the clearly defined problem in search of other solutions. 

Finally, the convergent creative phase saw a selection of solutions to be brought to our manager to decide which of these to implement.

 

Now all we have to do is monitor the results!

Do you want to discuss the topic covered with one of our experts? 

Send us an email at sales@weareconflux.com  to coordinate a meeting!

  • Business
  • UX

Team Conflux

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