Life in the 21st century life requires us to wear many and more hats all at once. As a result, we face more and more different people and work on more and more different tasks almost at the same time. Finishing a project now requires more people to work with and to work for!
This has made coordination an essential part of life.
Parents need to match schedules with their children and suppliers need to match schedules with their clients. The same goes for employees with bosses, students with classes and friends with fellow friends – schedule-matching has gone beyond the vocabulary of the executive and is now integral to everyone’s lives.
Economics has long recognized the need to work together. Working together allows us to do things based on our specialization and skill sets, thereby leading to faster and better outputs because of the inputs of the best workers. However, this has not always been the case. The best resources do not always work on the most appropriate tasks. This results in low quality outputs and/or a huge time lag in satisfying the task at hand.
In other words, it leads to inefficient results.
Translated into production and consumption, economic failure leads to substandard products and services being sold in the market. Consequently, it can lead to a scenario wherein only a few get to produce and dictate the price. The same situation can be said in relation to the implementation of programs, projects and activities in both the public and private sectors. Work gets bogged down because people fail to coordinate. As a result, economists have often equated economic failure to coordination failure.
Let’s take a step backward and define ‘coordination’. Merriam Webster defines coordination as:
“The process of organizing people or groups so that they work together properly and well.”
Note that the key component of coordination is ‘organization’. It means that regardless of whether the groups are big or small — a family of four or the United Nations — it NEEDS to be organized. All members should be aware of their contributions and responsibilities.
In the handling of the Yolanda crisis, coordination was clearly out of sorts. There was a lack of an organized body to coordinate all the relief efforts. As was seen, coordination failure can be fatal as it can cause paralysis.
The same can be said of small organizations — uncoordinated breaks in a factory will result in a halt in production. Managing time zones crucial to measuring a BPO’s efficiency, coordination in terms of budgeting, running errands, assigning chores is essential to every household.
The best (and worst) example? Traffic. Because there are more users than roads available, coordination by machines (traffic lights), enforcers, policemen are put in place. They are even supported by traffic rules by cities and national government and land transportation offices. In principle, the system is present to ensure that proper coordination exists for effective traffic flow. But in reality, the failure is a result of improper and weak coordination. Moreover, people (drivers, enforcers and regulators) hardly understand their specific roles, responsibilities and contribution to make traffic flow better.
What can we learn from these? First, in every group, it is important that EVERYONE knows their own responsibilities and specific contributions to achieve the bigger objective. In my family, to achieve the goal of having a family vacation abroad meant that each of us had to forego something we wanted. This was communicated, updated and implemented weekly during family time. Second, meetings should be regularized, allowing communication and transparency to flow freely, leading to a more focused method of achieving the goal.
It is important to regularly communicate the goals to the group and how everyone should contribute to it. Looking at this setup in a macro level, multiplying the “small scale” coordination to a bigger scale might be the solution to our situation.
Dr. Alvin Ang is an Economist and Responsible Personal Finance Advocate
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