The Harvard Business Review (HBR) has calculated that excess bureaucracy costs the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries almost 9 trillion dollars per year. Identifying that surplus bureaucracy in your own organization is not easy. Management structures are often deeply entrenched and difficult to untangle. But by approaching the issue methodically, and tackling it piece by piece, it’s possible to significantly boost efficiency and cut costs in your company.

Identify entrenched ideas

Many organizations, particularly those that have stood the test of time, have hierarchies designed around historic goals. Other, newer, companies are often at risk of allowing them to simply fall into place while execs are focused on core business areas.

Both of these approaches encourage entrenched interests: managers and departments that guard their staff and responsibilities regardless of the wider impact on the organization. This can result in what HBR identifies as a bloating of staff, and an inertia against change

Align your objectives

Start dismantling this problem by clearly breaking down what your organization does and what processes are necessary to achieve this. Your departments and positions should all align with this common vision.

An increasingly popular way of restructuring to these ends is to switch from function-based, hierarchical structures to a project-driven model. According to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2016 report, just 38% of all companies are functionally organized, with the majority now preferring a more flexible, project-based approach. This allows organizations to align teams with the business objectives that should be at the core of every project.

Simplify processes

Operating in tandem with these less hierarchical structures is the removal of unnecessary processes. HBR identifies these processes as a source of ‘friction’ which, put more simply, is an obstacle to getting the job done quickly and efficiently.

Prime examples include approval processes and paperwork that add little or no value to your tasks. Look out for these and eliminate them wherever possible. It will save your organization time and money, and it will free workers to focus on what’s important.

Empower employees

Giving your employees more control is a great way to improve productivity, accountability and even to identify bureaucracy. After all, if the staff can get the job done without being micro-managed, you’ll quickly see which managers are doing their jobs well.

Use new projects to trial fresh ideas like horizontal structures with a single, hands-off manager who checks in periodically rather than approving every decision. You could also try seconding staff from other areas to assess how flexible your team’s talents are, and whether they should really be siloed off into a single department. You might find that bureaucracy wasn’t just costing you the price of overstaffing, but also the broader benefits of a multi-talented staff.

Open up communication

According to Xero CMO, Andrew Lark, one of the biggest impacts of bureaucracy is on innovation. This is because bureaucracy as a structure encourages conformity and standardization, rather than ideas and results.

Allowing your employees to engage with one another across projects and departments, and to share information about core business ideas and operations, will improve productivity and innovation. It will also help reduce time wasted on internal politics and insular, departmental issues of lesser importance.

Bureaucracy does not mean that the hierarchy doesn’t work or that there are too many people, it simply means that there is a more efficient way of doing things. If companies were able to save a collective 9 trillion dollars imagine how the global economy would react. By allowing employees to do their jobs with the proper technology and workflows in place bureaucracy would quickly sort itself out.