If you’re familiar with the term “divide and conquer,” you’re familiar with the concept of division of labor. Dividing labor among two or more workers or groups of workers enables a company to operate more quickly and efficiently because it makes it possible for the workers and teams to focus on specific components of an operation, rather than saddling them with multiple tasks. Although there are numerous advantages to dividing workplace labor, there are also disadvantages to this practice. More steps in an operational process mean more opportunities for one step to go wrong and delay the next step, creating a snowball effect that backs up the entire process.
Division of labor isn't a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Look at ways other companies in your industry divide their labor to get ideas about how to effectively to split-up tasks among your workers.
Many of the advantages of dividing labor in your workplace are obvious. They include:
- Saving time.
- Giving each employee tasks that best suit her skills.
- Increasing productivity.
- Needing only one set of tools, rather than many, for the tasks at hand.
All of these advantages create one larger, more significant advantage: saving your company money by capitalizing on the economy of scale. When a company can create the same amount or more of its product or service in a shorter amount of time than it previously took to create the product, the product’s cost to produce falls. The company can continue charging customers the same amount of money for the product, increasing its profit, or lower the price to entice new customers to buy the product or existing customers to buy more by bundling the product with others from the company.
There are other advantages to dividing labor, too. Dividing labor encourages the use of machines to complete simple tasks, which drives down production costs further. It also facilitates invention and innovation because workers who focus on the same task can learn the task intimately and develop new ways to do it faster, more easily or better.
Dividing labor can be a great strategy for your company, but there are disadvantages to doing so, too. These include:
- Not developing workers’ skills.
- Division of responsibilities.
- Creating a system of dependence.
- Reduced worker mobility.
When every team only knows how to perform one task, workers’ individual skills aren’t always utilized to their fullest. Workers can also lose pride in their work because instead of being able to take ownership of a finished product, they only play a small role in creating that product. These workers can become demotivated and lazy, which can cause their work to suffer.
As a manager, one of your most important tasks is to determine an appropriate, effective way to break down the tasks your team needs to complete. Consider the advantages and disadvantages above to determine how many teams you will need to effectively complete the job, which team is best suited to each task and how to organize workflow so the teams’ efforts complement each other and create a flow, rather than a series of holdups in a convoluted system.