Today I had the unenviable job of going through peoples’ desks to put things in the shredder bin. It’s not the job I want, but someone has to do it.

I saw a lot of old emails printed out, project plans, test plans and whatnot. But one stood out.

It was a solid inch think stack of paper in a gusseted file folder. I remember being on the other side of the testing for this bit of work a couple years ago. It took me roughly an hour or two to get my part of the job done. The fact that my hour or two caused someone to spend the time to produce roughly 200 pages of documentation shocked me.

I can see documenting things that have legal consequences. You need the signature to take to court if you need to go that far. I can see using notebooks to take, well, notes in meetings if that’s the way you’re most effective. Or a notebook to jot down ideas as they come to you. I will even allow for printing out documentation — because sometimes it’s easier than looking at it on a monitor. Or because you need to scribble on it check-list style.

But to consume that much paper?

Why?

The hour of work I did was to run a program with some new data. The program itself had been tested months before. It was known that the program already worked… the underlying issue seemed to be trust. Even though it worked every previous time, the exact same level of rigor was brought to bear on this new problem. Lack of trust led to gross inefficiencies.

Now on to the documentation part. In testing this project I can’t reasonably conceive how that amount of paper could possibly be used. Even if all of it was used in scratch work, there is no reason that the paper should have saved for the intervening two or three years. Again, the only thing I can think that would cause that is lack of trust in the system. To feel compelled to save the artifact of testing means that you don’t trust your managers (and the whole company in fact) to trust you that you did your job.

The two-fold CYA walks down a path of barely being able to get your job done.

Let alone excel.

A company that lacks trust in each other so thoroughly will build up processes to smooth the feathers of the non-trust. It doesn’t solve the problem (lack of trust), but simply layers process, the faceless entity that cares about no one, on top of everything. It doesn’t trust. It doesn’t not trust. It just is. It just slows you down.

Remember: You are all on the same team. If someone messes up, give them a second chance; you’d want the same if you screw up. Don’t walk so slowly that you can’t trip because then you’ll never run.