Cults (i)

I also think it’s crucial that people are in the office for part of the time otherwise we lose that camaraderie, the bonding that you get from a team of people working on something.”

Taken from this <article>.

With more people than ever working from home, it’s a big challenge for companies to build a sense of common purpose.”

Taken from this <article> (the article concluded that, in order to “bond” properly, employees should go on drumming courses together.

What sort of balderdash and flummery is this?

I remember when employers used to treat employees like adults.  Employer culture has been overrun with emoting weaklings, most of whom seen to be somewhat underemployed, and who have displaced their own extroverted neediness and turned simpering playground-gang silliness into a demented group-think ideology which rapidly is becoming unquestionable, even by otherwise hard-nosed people who really ought to know better.

If you’re a manager who is underemployed, and utter the magic words “team building” and “culture” and “serendipity”, hey presto, the purse strings open, and you can waste millions on renting pointless offices where nobody gets any work done:

– and you can fill everyone’s day’s up with moronic team building codology, and people will confuse your pointless do-goodery antics with productive activity. It will never be questioned, as this waffle has now been elevated to the status of an article of faith which must not be questioned.

Let me show you what a lot of nonsense it is:

For instance, as a lawyer in private practice, I worked on multi-party, multi-jurisdictional deals, as part of extended teams of accountants, tax advisers, lawyers, engineers, banks, financiers, technical specialists of all kinds, etc.  Some of those were our clients’ people, many were not.  Many of them were overseas.  In one deal from a few years ago, half of them I never even met in person, apart from on the ‘phone (this was pre-covid, 2014-2015, before video calls were widespread).  From start to finish, the deal took over 18 months. 

Essentially, I was part of a tightly-knit team for nearly 2 years, all working our asses off, all driven by a common financial purpose. 

Many of us had never met each other, neither face-to-face, nor, as noted, even on Zoom / Teams.  Some of the personalities involved were difficult, and reliably obnoxious.  (You generally don’t end up running a major investment bank if you’re a sweet-natured soul lol.)  Rest assured, no friendships were formed.  “Bonding”, lol. We respected each other, and we called it how we saw it.  Nothing more.  There was no small talk, no camaraderie, no spontaneous shafts of sunlit creativity as we pranced hand-in-hand around the water cooler, singing our team song, surrounded by rainbow clouds of happy-clappy harmony …

The deal went well, and won the deal of the year at the local annual legal awards.

Isn’t that amazing lol – no bonding, no team building, hell, we didn’t even like each other – but it still won deal of the year.

And yet this lad can say, with a straight face, that it’s “crucial that people are in the office for part of the time otherwise we lose that camaraderie, the bonding that you get from a team of people working on something”.

Tosh.  Managerialism at its worst.  Trendy, vacuous, management psycho-babble. 

Frankly, if even a syllable of that was true, all corporate law firms would go to the wall, and the kind of adult team-working I have just described would be an impossibility – despite such team work being commonplace between corporate law firms and clients for decades. 

As a lawyer in private practice and in-house, I had perfectly effective working relationships with clients and overseas colleagues that I rarely – and in some cases never – met.  Ironically, working at one company, I had a far better working relationship with the team in a country 8,000 miles away (most of whom I never met) than I did with some of the jerks in our office, whom I met face-to-face daily, unfortunately.  

Can you imagine, as a lawyer or other consultant in private practice, suggesting to your head of dept that you were minded to turn down that lucrative instruction from that difficult client because you felt there wasn’t the “right cultural fit with the client” lol.  Obviously, subject to a conflict / AML check and the instructions being legal and sensible, you will work with anybody – the “cab rank” rule. Lawyers and many other consultants  frequently work closely, in effective teams, with people that they have no personal connection of any sort with.  It’s simply not necessary.  Were it otherwise, the world of business and corporate affairs would collapse overnight. 

The idea that “you produce better work if you like your colleagues / clients” is the flip side of “you produce worse work if you dislike your colleagues / clients“. In reality, I work to a standard that I set for myself. What I think, or don’t think, about you is irrelevant. I’ll do my damnedest for you if I think you’re a wonderful person. I’ll also do my damnedest for you if I can’t stand you. It makes not a jot of difference to me. I fail to see how on earth it could be otherwise. Do these group-hugger types have some sort of system where they increase the quality of their work pro rata to the extent that they have positive emotions / good camaraderie about their colleagues or clients? Frankly, such people may well be suited to a caring profession, but they have no place in business. All they’re doing is imposing self-indulgent and half-baked theories on people who are trying to do a day’s work.

Incidentally, it also follows from the foregoing that, while a decent salary is important, in my view, bonuses are a complete waste of money. They never made any difference to how I worked. Obviously, I never told any employer that (who refuses more money), but it’s the truth – I’d have done the same work, to the same standard, in the same time, without any bonus. You shouldn’t have paid me any bonus; it made no difference. Of course, if you want to give me the extra money out of simple generosity, fine; but please let’s stop pretending that giving anyone a bonus is going to make an iota of difference to how they work.

Ironically, in the deal alluded to above, while I always try to work equally hard for everyone, I probably went even more obsessive on any work product I had to do for one especially obnoxious character.  I always wanted to be so ahead of schedule, that he’d be shown up, and silenced.  Like lads in a football club tearing lumps out of each other in an in-house A v B match, the quality of my performance was a disguised act of aggression, deriving from the fact that I disliked the guy.  That is, ironically, all the bonding codology so beloved of companies nowadays, through sheer cod-psychology stupidity, would have attempted to interfere with a winning dynamic. 

We’re in business to make money together.  In pursuit of that end, we are respectful, collegiate, honourable, honest, industrious.  That’s called “being professional”, and, unless you’re some sort of socially-dysfunctional moron, you should behave like that towards everyone you encounter in a corporate / client setting, entirely regardless of the vagaries of one’s personal feelings about them.   Personal feelings are irrelevant in a professional context, and that’s how it should be. It is crassly un-professional to let such simpering faux-considerations intrude on one’s professional life.  We make lots of acquaintances, and we know how to treat each other with respect, but friendship rarely comes into it.  If I look at the hundreds, thousands, of people I have met through work over the last 30 years; and compare the amount of those with whom I had any genuine camaraderie (as opposed to the fake, spoofing, small-talk, bantering kind that I can turn on for anybody at the drop of a hat) and who became friends, it is a very small %.  Great to find, of course, and a welcome bonus on the very rare occasions that a genuine friendship derives from a business involvement, but that’s what workplace or client friendships are – a rare bonus. It’s silly to assert that group-hugs and shallow happy-clappiness necessarily presage success in business.  

No, the real drivers for this obsession with obsolete real estate are as follows:

  • Widespread political and corporate lobbying by corporate realtors, fighting for their jobs;
  • Sunk costs fallacy by managers (“we’ve signed this ten year lease on this ruinously expensive city-centre white elephant office, and by God we’re going to get value out of it, whether it’s valuable or not …”);
  • Extroversion-bias in business, whereby typically extrovert managers – who are depleted by solitude and energised by noise, distractions and chatter – assume, wrongly, that everyone else is like them;
  • Rubbish management – managers who have no idea how to measure productivity by outcomes, and panic that nobody’s working if they can’t “feel the buzz”;
  • Peacocking – in top-down, status-driven organisations, wherein markers of status are everywhere  – from preferred slots in the company car park to better offices to parading around pestering everyone in your suit that’s more expensive than theirs – it’s pretty difficult to peacock on a Teams call, where everybody has equal screen time; and, last but not least,
  • Cults – the cult-ification of corporate culture, and the infantilisation of corporate culture – and that’s a separate article really, about how, in this century, increasingly, <employers are indistinguishable from cults>.

I’ll tell my kids to work hard etc, but I will also make clear to them that the days of no bullshit, tough-minded adult employers are receding fast, and that if they wish to function as self-respecting adults, the status of being an employee increasingly largely is incompatible with that.

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