Friday, November 03, 2006

Mind games

I spotted this book today. It was ordered by a customer and after flicking through it, I am extremely glad that I don't work with her.The cover is pretty self-explanatory. The book contains a number of activities which, the back cover claims, will improve the morale of a 'team' in the workplace. One excercise requires each employee to recount an episode from their childhood that made them feel particularly proud and this is then thrown out to the rest of the team to discuss it. Whenever I see the word team used in a business context I feel a sense of dread because it is invariably a euphemism for conformity.

In my workplace I manage intelligent, interesting people who who ask very little of me except that I treat them with respect, give them a clear idea of what's expected of them, provide them with the tools to do their jobs and recognise what they achieve. The morale is good. There is no bitching behind people's backs, sick leave is almost non-existent and although we are all quite different people (with a 49-year gap between the oldest and youngest employee) we seem to get on with each other and have had some good nights out.

I'm sure that the reason for our good working environment is based on mutual respect. We are all very different, but each of us has something to add to the whole. Sadly, the trend in many workplaces seems to be towards uniformity and rather than celebrating people's individuality, it is often seen as a threat.

It's strange how so many right-wing businesspeople extol the virtues of the free market and personal choice whilst running their workplaces like Soviet Russia. Motivated by a mixture of fear and ambition, employees in many businesses are not only asked to work hard but to also adopt their employer's values. Conformity is rewarded, dissent is punished.

This is why 'The Big Book of Teambuilding Games' is so offensive. Apart from being extremely patronising, it operates from the premise that it is not enough for people to just do their jobs, they must also have their souls re-engineered. Why should grown adults have to humiliate themselves by playing with Lego bricks or struggling across a freezing cold river on an outward bound course? And God help you if you're introverted because that means you're not a team player, even if you're doing a good job.

Perhaps I'm overreacting to this silly book, but I don't like what it stands for. I've nothing against a team attitude and think that a unified sense of purpose is vital, but it must spring naturally from employees and that can only be achieved by making people feel involved, motivated and respected. If a workplace is unhappy, no amount of games or excercises will change that until the fundamental causes are dealt with.

No comments: