As you may well know by now, I’m not well known as a joiner of activities. I don’t seek out social events or organizations. I don’t join clubs or rush out to sign up for team events. A million years ago as a student, group projects were an absolute agony… and I like them even less now as an adult. To say I do my best to avoid those situations is an understatement at the least. Anything that reeks with the stench of “group project” is to be avoided at nearly any cost.
The officially sanctioned Large Bureaucratic Organization “org day” is exactly the kind of thing I was built to avoid. The endless rounds of small talk with virtual strangers, the repeated need to refuse requests to sign up for various “team building activities,” and spending hours standing around looking vaguely uncomfortable are rarely the hallmarks of a good time. They’re not, in short, the kind of things I would enjoy doing under any circumstances, let alone when it’s laid on under the auspices of a benevolent employer.
Maybe it’s the kind of thing that’s good for someone’s morale, but I’m not that someone. The sort of things that improve my feeling of well being aren’t generally the ones that lend themselves to being a team event. Give me a comfy chair, a good book, a decent beverage, and a furry critter whose ears need scratching and my morale goes up dramatically. Recruiting me to join in a tug-o-war, not so much.
In this case, the best possible outcome I can hope for is managing to spend a couple of hours showing the flag and being seen by the right people before quietly disappearing to do something that will legitimately make me feel better about the world. I know there is no way to account for every individual preference when dealing in large numbers, but it would be nice, occasionally, if someone recognized that one size does not fit all.
Some days fly by not so much because you’re busy and gainfully engaged in doing important and productive work, but because you’ve got an endless rain of ridiculous questions, halfassed ideas, and general fuckery waiting on you around every turn.
I’d dearly like to say that such days are a rarity, but a cardinal rule of this blog is that we don’t lie, exagerate, or make misleading claims. Maybe days like this aren’t arriving often enough to be the rule, but they aren’t rare enough to be the exception, either. It’s more like a certain level of fuckery has been normalized. It’s just what you come to expect on any given day.
After all these years, you’d think that I’d have dialed in my level of expectation accordingly, but every now and then it really does jump up and catch me by surprise. No matter how jaded or cynical I manage to be, a day always comes along that leaves my eyes wide and head shaking in wonder at the business of “business as usual.”
Sigh. Sometimes the only good thing you can say about a day is “it’s over.”
The language of bureaucracy is full of many ways to admit that you have no idea what’s going on in interesting and completely non-committal ways. This afternoon I was in a meeting where I’m pretty sure I used all of them. It’s an awkward feeling, though not in any way surprising or unusual.
You see, I find myself in the not unfamiliar position of being told that I’m “in charge” of something without being given the corresponding authority to make any actual decisions. This means I’ll spend more time running back to higher echelons and asking “mother may I” and waiting for mother’s response than I will doing anything that might accidentally resemble planning.
Sure, I’ll perch out on a limb from time to time and make a decision that’s time sensitive. There’s a cost associated with doing that – a limited pool of good will that occasionally lets you execute an end run around the powers that be. It usually ends up with either being required to beg forgiveness or listening to one of the Olympians opine on how it had been their idea all along.
Mercifully the last thing on earth I want is credit. All I really want is to do a job quietly, professionally, and then head myself towards the barn at the first available opportunity. Frankly I’d prefer than my name stay out of the record as much as possible – because public recognition has a funny way of only serving to attracting more work and I’m not looking to expand into new markets here.
Today was the first of many meetings where most of my responses will inevitably be some variation of “I don’t know.” This is the time of year when I approach peak bureaucrat-ing. It’s a close run contest to decide whether I’ll respond “don’t know” or “that depends” more often over the the next few months.
Of the two interviews I went on in the last month, I’ve received one “we regret to inform you letter,” and one call back for another meeting. Based on my experiences with Uncle’s hiring process, that’s actually a decent result. The call back means I most likely was at the top of the list after the interview process and stood a 30 minute sit down away from getting an offer. Normally I’d feel good about that… though of course you and I know I always prefer to do things that hard way.
The first email out of my box this morning was a quick “thank you for the opportunity to interview, but I no longer wish to be considered for this position.” I was more flowery and diplomatic than that, but the end result was the same – I put a knife in what was just about a guaranteed path out. It’s an uneasy feeling, especially knowing that it may very well poison that well for a long time going forward.
Still, I know taking myself out of contention was the right decision. During the interview, the panel chair mentioned a two word phrase that filled me with an unholy dread – noting in his introduction that the position for which I was interviewing was designated as a “team lead.” Now I can tell you right from the jump that ol’ Jeff doesn’t like the sound of that one little bit. I’ve done my stint as an honest to God supervisor and the very last thing I wan to do is step foot back on that slippery slope. It’s doubly true when that lowest rung on the management ladder comes with all sorts of responsibility but none of the actual authority. Worse, it comes without even more than a nominal bump in salary.
More headache for the same money is bad math no matter what way you look at it. That’s what really drove me to put an end to it. It doesn’t put me in an better a position than I was in a month ago… but it also doesn’t make things even worse so we’ll just call it a draw.
1. Facebook live video. I get it, Zuckerberg. You did a neat thing and can push live video direct to my phone. That’s nifty. But really what I need my social media to do is compliment my daily activities, not attempt to hijack and monopolize them. One of the reasons I still like Facebook is it isn’t time dependent. I can check my news feed periodically throughout the day, check responses to comments, laugh at a few cat pictures, and then move on. Getting 20 notices an hour that friends and pages I follow “went live” isn’t helping. Thank God now that it’s become a thing you did at least give us a toggle switch to make it go away.
2. Rescheduling. If you have a meeting set up with one of the gods on Olympus and the date and time of that meeting gets changed three times in as many days, you know all you need to know about the priority of the effort in which you are engaged. Look, I’m perfectly fine being a low priority, but it would be helpful to know that well in advance so I can allocate my own time spent working on a particular project appropriately.
3. You and the team. I got an email a few days ago asking for “me and my team” to review something. While it’s adorable that anyone things that my work output is the collective group effort of some mythical team, it’s just me down here banging shit out every day. Those reports you’re getting, those briefings you’re reading, those endless meetings being attended, that’s me. It’s not a vast team of people coordinating this jackassery. I’m an army of one down here in the belly of this particular beast. However, if you do indeed believe this product to be the work of a team, I believe it’s high time we started talking about a step increase and a title bump.
It’s always a positive and self-affirming moment when someone comes by your desk, takes a long look at you, and announces, “Damn, Jeff. You look tired.”
The fact is, I am tired. It has nothing to do with how much sleep I got the night before (which was plenty) and everything in the world to do with the volume of information I’m trying to exert some semblance of control or influence over for the next 25 days. There are plenty of people who have a more demanding plate of responsibilities, of course. If my project slips off the rails no one is going to die a terrible flesh wasting death due to toxic chemical exposure. That, at least, I have going for me. Still, between project meetings, sub-team meetings, a never-empty inbox, and a phone that won’t stop ringing, I’m not so much processing information as I am sifting it from one pile to another while hoping I don’t miss something important. Unfortunately I’ve been doing this long enough to know I’m missing stuff.
It’s a piss poor way to operate. It means everything else that’s supposed to be important and on my plate is getting crowded out just because of the volume of material this one particular effort is kicking up. I’ve got some expected leadership beatings lined up later this week, so at least I have that to look forward to. Plus, if I’m this tired now, just imagine how chipper and rested I’ll be in another three and a half weeks. That should be good times for everyone.
1. The link doesn’t work. In order to register for a major upcoming event, people need to follow a ling from the announcement to the registration page. For 20 people today, the internet proved to be too hard to use… and led to the creation of a response that I could copy and paste instructing them to 1) copy and paste the link into their browser if it wasn’t appearing “hot” in the announcement message; 2) Try using a different browser if that didn’t work; 3) Restart their computer and reconnect to their company network in the event neither #1 or #2 resolved their problem. Failing all three quick fixes, I directed them to the actual help email of the website they were trying to use. These are the thought leaders and business developers in the communications field. I just shouldn’t need to tell them how to internet at a basic level. And people wonder why every damned thing is getting hacked. Sigh.
2. Teams. Against my wishes and my better judgement I’m called upon from time to time to be in charge of various team projects. They’re not fun or character building experience, more something that must simply be endured. The problem, largely, with teams is that they are populated with other people. Those other people will likely not feel the same sense of urgency to get things done that you yourself may feel. Some will have no urgency to speak of while others will treat every small decision like The Most Important Thing in the World. Both of these types of people are obnoxious and entire detrimental to good order and discipline. Sadly punching them in the throat or drinking heavily at your desk are both considered “inappropriate” coping skills.
3. Vaguely worded email. If you’re going to take the time to send me a message via electronic mail, for the love of God go ahead and take the extra 30 seconds to read your own drivel and make sure that it makes some semblance of sense to the reader… Because honest Injun, if I have to consult the oracle or cast bones to divine your intent, that mess is going to end up deleted and I’ll spend the rest of the day judging you.
1. What dreams may come. I don’t know what I spent the night dreaming about. I very rarely remember dreams. What I can tell you is whatever it was it left me well and truly annoyed. I can only surmise from the result that it somehow involved people being stupid. That hardly seems insightful but I can’t think of anything else that leaves me with such a general feeling of annoyance and disappointment in the universe.
2. Christmas. Go ahead and call me Grinch, Scrooge, Krampus, whatever, but it’s three days before Christmas and I’m just not feeling it this year. Maybe it’s because I’ve usually already started my Christmas vacation by this point in the week. Maybe it’s because it was 50 degrees today. Maybe it’s because I want to bludgeon the next person who whistles past my cubicle wearing an ugly Christmas sweater to death with my keyboard. I might not be ready for Christmas this year, but I’m damn good and ready for this eight-day weekend… and that’s not nothing.
3. Backup. I’ve been saying for months now that I needed someone to at least get familiar with some of the things I’m working on. I don’t need someone to do the work, just someone who can speak intelligently about it if I happen to get hit by a bus, win the lottery, or, you know, take a few days off. Now that the latter scenario is upon is, let’s not act like anyone is surprised it’s happening. The decision that every project was going to have a single point of failure was made at echelons far above mine and despite all evidence to the contrary, decisions have consequences. The consequence here is that while I’m gone, no one is going to be around to answer whatever questions happen to come up. Yes, it means there will be an unmitigated shitshow when I get back. I may not be able to avoid those problems, but I can sure as hell defer them and for the time being that’s good enough.
I have a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to whatever oddball projects hit my desk: Just get them done and move them off my desk as expeditiously as possible. Most projects don’t come with a lot of fanfare (and they come with even less recognition, especially when they’re going along without much trouble). The thing is when someone tells me they need me to do Task A, Task B, and Tasks F-N, I generally just focus in and get those knocked out as quickly as possible or in accordance with whatever overarching project timeline the Great Project Manager in the Sky set.
It seems so easy and straightforward, but in my experience as the nominal leader of various projects it’s anything but. On my very best days as a supervisor I had what can be described as a largely “hands off” philosophy. That is to say besides a periodic check on progress I’m perfectly happy to let members of the team go off and solve problems and get shit done in the way that most makes sense for them. The last thing I ever had any interest in being was the kind of boss who spent all his time skulking around looking over people’s shoulder. It wasn’t my style as a supervisor and it’s certainly not my style as a “coordinator.”
The downside, of course, of my particular style and workplace methodology is that it relies on other people doing what they were supposed to do both on time and to standard. That, friends, is almost always where your average project will start to fall off the rails. As it turns out there is a large and growing number of people who can’t do much of anything without close adult supervision. I can only speculate that they’re nice enough human beings, but getting things done just isn’t their particular forte. That’s where we have a decided clash in philosophies.
If you’re looking for the guy who is going to double and triple check everyone’s work, sooth their nerves, and pin their mittens to their coats before sending them out in the cold, I’m so not the one you want to put in charge of the effort. You’re going to be disappointed in the results. It’s not so much that I don’t care about reaching the desired outcomes as it is that I refuse to hand hold or spoon feed professionals who have been at their jobs as long or longer than I have. Do you job. Don’t do your job. I won’t worry and hand wring either way, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll chunk you under the bus at the first available opportunity.
I’m tempted to take back what I wrote last night about steps in the right direction. My opinion on that matter was corrected this afternoon with the arrival of a “save the date” email calling forth what is commonly termed a team building event. For someone who’s fundamentally an introvert, another name for team building event could easily be “An Afternoon in Hell.”
For those not yet acquainted with my views on teams, team building, and touchy felly management theory, I recommend you read this, this, and this.
I think it’s safe to say that my views on the issue have been remarkably consistent over time… and the likelihood of that changing between now and next week feels like something between slim and nonexistent.
It’ll be just another in a long line of moments to lie back and think of England.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, if you search Google for Teamwork Sucks, this humble blog is the 3rd ranked result. It seems I’ve been doing a good job at making the case. At least I have that.