God save us from wanky team bonding exercises
HERE are some sentences to chill the blood.
"Honey, we need to talk."
"Yes sir, your test results have come back, but I'd rather not discuss them over the phone."
Scariest of all:
"Welcome to today's offsite. My name is Ken, and I'll be facilitating our first team building exercise."
Ken starts by going around the room.
"So guys, let's get the ball rolling!" Ken exclaims with an exuberance matched only by your desire to throw yourself off a cliff.
"This retreat is going to be about having FUN. But make no mistake, we are really going to stretch and challenge ourselves. To kick things off, I want each of you to state your name, then tell us something about you that none of your workmates know."
Like most normal and well-adjusted people - you know, people who would rather busy themselves at work by just doing their damn job - the second I find myself at one of these management days, my thoughts turn to anarchy.
I feel an intense sense of resentment resembling actual rage at having my and everyone else's time wasted. That, combined with a palpable, sweaty-palmed anxiety at being forced to take part in such intellectually demeaning garbage. Nothing makes me want to act more like a demented year nine student who's forgotten his ADHD tablets.
I want to whisper jokes to my mates, swear and snigger. I want to send profanity-laden texts to every like-minded person in the room. I want to misbehave and ensure that the offsite is rendered useless, or rather, exposed for the useless charade it is.
"Hi Ken, my name's Dave, and none of my colleagues know this but I was once charged with manslaughter. I'd rather not say anymore about it if that's OK. Your turn, Belinda."
Facilitate that, Ken.
The other unpleasant quality of the management offsite is that nothing unleashes and emboldens company brown-nosers like a day in a room filled with butcher's paper where they can strut their stuff in front of the bosses. The offsite is Christmas Day for the office show-pony.
"Hi Ken, my name's Brad. I suppose it's no secret among my colleagues that I've got a reputation for being a perfectionist. What people don't know is that there are times when I really doubt myself, even question my work, which I guess makes me a workaholic. My wife says I should lighten up, but it's hard, because I will never accept second best for our company."
Thanks for sharing, Brad. We feel your pain.
Having spent most of my life working in the media, home as it is to world's-best-practice stirrers, I suspect I have spent less time in these infernal offsites than most white-collar workers.
The constant presence of deadlines makes it logistically difficult for media people to vanish for a full day with Ken and his collection of whiteboard markers and coloured wheels of human behaviour. Beyond that, smart media managers know that they inflict this stuff on their cynical staff at their peril.
The prevailing ethos within the media toward any form of management tosh was best put by the irascible Sam Chisholm, that late, great Channel 9 chief who embodied his network's (former) swagger by declaring: "Losers have meetings. Winners have parties".
In my experience, offsites only work when they are short, aimed at addressing a real problem or identifying a real opportunity, and closely managed to create a tangible, plain-English plan that all staff understand.
I went to a good one recently, a tightly-run affair which wasn't so much a love-in as a communication exercise, with senior management sharing the 2019 corporate plan with the staff. They also revealed the happy news that every staff member is now entitled to use two of their annual sick days as mental health days, meaning with a bit of advance notice you can give yourself an extra couple of long weekends to recharge the batteries.
Surely that's a better way to improve productivity than standing in a circle in the woods falling blindfolded into each other's arms.
In all seriousness - and it's a serious issue, as there is a multi-billion dollar industry built up around this crap - this brand of mandated corporate psychology has at its centre one major flaw.
It is intimidating. It upsets people. They find it impertinent. And it is designed to be so, as the modern brand of Californian management psychobabble holds that it is a good thing to push people "outside their comfort zone". It's a perversely counter-productive way to treat people.
In my experience, organisations are at their best when people are encouraged to work within their comfort zone, as long they as do their jobs well.
This time last year, the Adelaide Crows were being driven around an undisclosed location in the Gold Coast hinterland with Dustin Martin bubblegum cards taped to their eyelids listening to The Killers' Mr Brightside on a 12-hour loop.
This year, we have heard from several players that this pre-season has been completely different and that there is an awesome mood in the group. They didn't go on a silly mind-expanding camp, and what's more, Don Pyke has even scrapped pre-training player meetings because a lot of the blokes view them as an imposition and would rather just train.
If the Crows achieve nothing else this year, they have already achieved one great thing. By changing tack so markedly within 12 months, they have inadvertently blown a welcome hole in the vacuous people management culture that they embraced to their detriment in 2018.
With any luck the hit management book of 2020 will be entitled: No Bullshit: How an Australian football club achieved the ultimate prize by letting its players enjoy themselves and do their jobs.