Watching The Camel Being Designed.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in those team building workshops you’ve probably already heard the saying “The camel was the horse designed by committee“. This is even more true when working in government departments where the tendency for people to rise to their level of incompetence with almost clockwork consistency. I have spent all today in one such session (hence the late post) and I can say that without a doubt it was one of the most confusing and pointless exercises I’ve ever been through.

I can easily understand upper management’s vision of trying to make our section more sociable with each other. Its nice to have a work environment were everyone is friends with each other and sure there can be tangible benefits to the organisation in terms of productivity. What I don’t understand is the need to try and force this upon everyone, especially those who have a tendency to you know, not typically socialise that well (yes I’m stereotyping IT workers, but seriously, it’s true most of the time). It’s not that I hate everyone where I work, far from it. I find the majority of them very easy to get along with and I’ve yet to rub anyone the wrong way. Still they’re completely different people to me, most of them in their 30s with kids and have completely different interests to me. Sure there’s some common things but in the majority I’m sure they’re not particularly interested in hanging out with me after work. There’s nothing wrong with this either and if I bump into them while I’m out I’ll be sure to strike up a good conversation with them. But I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that everyone I work with is one of my friends.

And then came the camel designing. There had been a survey sent around some time ago (I think it was before my time) in which they looked for what they did well and what they didn’t. Of course this was an inherently bad idea since one thing that someone believes the organisation does well someone else will refute. So whilst there were some main themes that could be discerned it appeared for many things that we managed to do them both well and badly all at the same time. We started to drift into camel territory quickly when it came time to design some solutions to the problems people had alluded to in the surveys. The themes we had identified earlier were in no way solved by the solutions proposed. Instead there were several agenda pushers who obviously had some goal in mind and directed the group in such a way so that it appeared that the solutions would help, but in reality they did nothing to solve the underlying issues.

I gave up after my idea of having an open forum (to give everyone a voice, not just the senior management) took 10 minutes to explain and was still misinterpreted. I’m more than happy to watch them writhe in their own web of problems.

The problem with the whole process was that it was done with the illusion of giving everyone the opportunity to shape the future of the section, when in fact that power was robbed from them because of the process. The aggregation of results, which were then separated into 6 categories for analysis by each individual team, meant that the power shifted from the survey results to their interpreters. Couple this with the tyranny of majority and any power granted to the individual originally evaporates. They then took a vote from everyone to prioritize these objectives without considering that some of them were already in motion and others overlapped each other (I.E. one was to develop a section wide projects group and the other was to develop a projects pipeline. Realistically the latter should be part of the former). In essence I saw what people thought was a democratic process die a slow painful death right before my eyes.

I’ve never really been a fan of these junkets and this one was no exception. As a contractor who has little power over the direction of an organisation usually being forced to attend something where I had absolutely no power was a pointless waste of time and tax payer dollars. I’ll happily eat my words if they implement 50% of the things they mentioned and they provide some tangible benefit. My guess is that one or the other will happen, not both.

Sure you could also write this all off as me being bitter about having no power to control the direction of the agency I’m working for, and that’s a valid point. I’m not really a fan of going through a process to give me the illusion that I have some power when I know I don’t. The whole process could have easily omitted contractors such as myself who should really not be involved in such things. We’re meant to be hired to fill a temporary gap in skills or to spread the workload so that project work can be completed. In typical Australian government fashion were far from it, with us being treated like permanent employees with the only difference being that our pay comes from a different bucket of money (oh and less HR overheads).

The lack of control doesn’t really bother me. Being told I have influence when I know I don’t does give me the irrates though.

End of rant.

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