Posted by: spacewritinguy | February 5, 2009

Infantile Behavior in the Workplace

When I describe “infantile behavior in the workplace,” I don’t mean temper tantrums, childish humor, or bedwetting, though often you can find enough of all of the above in any office, if you look hard enough. No, what had me in a twist today was a “team building” exercise in which the purpose was to fashion animals out of tinfoil and then share with the other kindergarteners “what this animal says about you.”

Not being terribly artistic, I rolled mine up into something in about two minutes and then started texting a former HR friend. I was on the verge of turning to my manager and saying, “I’m done, can I go play with my Legos now?” But no, the entire HOUR was consumed by this idiotic exercise.

Here are some insights a former HR person and full-time pain in the ass can offer to people who want to do these sorts of exercises:

  • Stop it.
  • You can’t force teamwork.
  • You can’t force people to be friends. You can expect a minimum level of courtesy and respect, neither of which requires your team to be best-pinky-friends-forever. If we want to be friends, we’ll do so on our own time, when we’re not paid to be nice.
  • Forcing people to engage in group therapy can be uncomfortable for some and an exercise in “too much information” for others (do we really need to hear about all the tragedies in your life? No).
  • Putting a group of intelligent professionals into a room and making them sit through cut-and-paste hour might sound fun, but the more serious-minded in the group are thinking:
    • You’re wasting my damned time.
    • You’re insulting my intelligence.
    • You’re trying to infantilize me.
    • Some of us are more interested in getting in touch with our inner adult. Our inner child left us sometime around college.
    • You’re making the unartistic, shy, or inarticulate members of the group feel unnecessarily inadequate.

And here’s another news flash: If you’ve got performance or actual teamwork issues in the workplace–you know, what we get PAID to do–then a one-hour group regression therapy exercise is not going to fix it. 

Competent people don’t demand much from their workplace, but in case the management therapists among you are still looking for “bright ideas to build teamwork,” here are a few deep thoughts from the Spacewritinguy:

  • Hire the best people you can find, and do what you can to keep them happy.
  • Make sure people have the resources they need to do their jobs.
  • Recognize people appropriately for work well done. If it requires a handshake, then give the handshake. If it calls for a bonus check, give folks the check. If it means a promotion or raise, let ’em fly. We don’t need the circus clown, dog, or pony. Treat us like the professional adults we are.
  • Remove barriers to productive work.
  • If there is a problem between groups or individuals, address the matter directly as soon as it interferes with the ability to get productive work done. If it’s just a pissing contest between egos or a seventh-grade case of she-doesn’t-like-me, ignore it. Don’t drag the entire group into the board room for finger paints.
  • If you can’t fix the problems, get rid of the person or persons who are causing them.

That’s really about it.

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