Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pharaonic teambuilding

An interesting account about pyramid construction and the rudiments of "management" and "team building." From The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson.
The scale of the project seems almost overwhelming today, but to the government machine of Khufu's reign, with the benefit of a generation's experience in the construction of vast pyramids, it may have appeared less daunting. The ancient Egyptian approach to any large-scale undertaking was to divide it up into manageable units. When it came to pyramid buildings and the organization of a vast workforce, this proved both efficient and highly effective. The basic unit of the workforce was probably a team of twenty men, each with its own team leader. This kind of organization would have produced a team spirit, and a sense of friendly rivalry between teams would have encouraged each to try and outdo the others. This was certainly the case with larger units of the workforce, as surviving inscriptions testify. Ten teams formed a two-hundred-strong division, known today by the Greek term "phyle." Five phyles, each with its own leader and identity, made up a gang of a thousand workers. And two gangs, again with distinctive and often jokey names (such as "the king's drunkards"), made a crew, the largest unit of men. The pyramid-shaped structure of the workforce reflected the monument itself. Like the regiments, battalions, and companies of an army, the organizational arrangement engendered a strong sense of corporate identity and pride at different levels of the system. Team vied with team, phyle with phyle, and gang with gang to be the best and to win recognition. This structure was a simple and ingenious solution to a massive task, and it ensured that motivation was maintained.

It needed to be. Throughout the two decades it took to build the Great Pyramid, the construction work was hot, unrelenting, exhausting, and dangerous. The conditions must have been particularly unpleasant down in the main quarry, a few hundred yards south of the pyramid itself. Choking clouds of limestone dust, the blinding glare of the quarry face, the constant din of chisels, swarms of flies, and the stench of sweated labor: it was not a pleasant environment. The rawest of recruits had to serve their time here, earnestly hoping for promotion—and working hard to achieve it. Not that the alternative was any less strenuous. Hauling the vast stone blocks from quarry face to construction site was backbreaking work. Each block, weighing a ton or more, had to be levered onto a wooden sledge, then dragged by ropes along a carefully prepared track. At the end of its journey, it had to be taken off the sledge and moved carefully into position, ready for shaping and finishing. And all this at the pace of one block every two minutes, for ten hours a day.

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