On the Handrail into the Decision-Making Circle – Meetings and Circles

His first group meeting. They gathered in one of the numerous meeting rooms, whose dismal functionality immediately suffocated every trace of creativity. In general, the whole building—although completed only a few years ago—resembled more a hospital than an IT centre.

After last week’s kick-off, this is the second chapter of a new novel about life in the corporation entitled “On the handrail to the decision-making circle”. This novel is an experiment for me that depends on your feedback. Is it worth writing this novel? What could I do better and what should I do differently?

So now T. was part of that group, one of them, had changed sides, was no longer “just” an external. He was supposed to be an IT project manager, leading an important project in a large program, difficult business department, very political—as usual. T. was considered capable of managing this situation well, which is why he had been hired.

As a new member T. introduced himself at the beginning of the group meeting in a few brief words. Then the others introduced themselves in turn, mostly more detailed than he thought was appropriate; apparently there was no hurry. T. already knew most of them, at least casually, and with some of them he had already worked quite intensively in the past.

Ninety minutes each week. That was the rite, all the groups did it that way. So not only the 15 employees of his group, but basically all employees met each week for one and a half hour. Several thousand hours of working time were invested week after week (not to say destroyed) in order to distribute and discuss information from committees and higher circles.

Circles seemed to be very important. The circle of IT managers, the main department circle, then the department meeting – which for inexplicable reasons was no longer a circle – and then this group meeting. From circle to circle, from round to round, a Chinese whispers game for adults that has become a ritual, this reading, commenting and discussing of minutes and resolutions from committees and circles. This meeting definitely should have become an email.

Or even better a blog post in the Enterprise Social Network, then you could simply discuss with everyone there and not just here in this group. On Twitter he had experienced this discussion over the last few years and learned to highly appreciate it. That’s why T. curiously took a look at this Enterprise Social Network on his first day, but was disappointed to find that there didn’t seem to be any good public discussions. Maybe there was more discussion in the many private groups, but the public area looked like a ghost town.

“Is to be implemented as presented”, “the delivery schedule is to be adhered to”, “is to be started as agreed” and so forth. The language of these committees and circles out of whose minutes his group leader read the relevant information seemed strangely impersonal to him. As if it were not humans talking to each other, but a machine talking to them. So he had become a small gear in a machine and the system now gave him and the others its instructions through an infinite number of committees and decision-making circles.

But weren’t these circles made up of humans? And weren’t their instructions ultimately directed at humans? Weren’t humans the core of the organization? Nevertheless, or perhaps because of that, everyone seemed to be trying to keep this official communication as cold, passive, sterile and inhuman as possible. Captain Picard among the Borg came to his mind.

Since T. neither understood nor considered important most of this line communication, at least not for the project he would concentrate on, because that’s what he had come for, he went about doing what everyone else did and opened his laptop. A bog-standard Windows laptop. He hated Windows.

Even more T. hated to have no admin rights on the device in order to configure it at least somewhat acceptable. From his previous jobs he was used to choosing between MacBook and Windows laptop. Just as T. took it for granted for him as a computer scientist to set up his computers according to his wishes and install what he needed. But of course this was not possible here. Not even a sticker on the device was allowed!

“Don’t be like that! It’s just a job.” It was a very well paid job, which he had gotten despite a remainder of skepticism from the personnel officer. “Think carefully about whether he really fits into your group, whether he fits into our culture here. I have my doubts as to whether he will fit in well,” she told his group leader clearly. Now T. began to understand what she meant. It would be hard, harder than expected.

He didn’t just want to do a job, he wanted to make a bloody difference, make a difference together with other engaged people, create something big together. That’s what he wanted.

T. was now happy to be a part of it and he liked the people, but at the same time he was irritated by the discussions. It seemed to him that this group meeting was often about preventing things. Sometimes it was the claims of the projects against the IT systems managed in this group that had to be rejected. Then there were the non-practical inquiries of the governance, which one wanted to avert with as little effort as possible. Also striking were the complaints from employees about groups in other departments who did not want to cooperate properly in order to do their own thing.

At first glance, it almost seemed to T. that the cohesion of this group consisted to a not insignificant degree in the demarcation to the outside and against “the others”.

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1 Comment

Servus Mackus,
Very good, strikingly resembling my experiences in team meetings and some very keen insights into the corporate world.
I like the references to the previous chapter regarding the HR lady’s comment about culture, obviously they don’t encourage diversity, open-mindedness, or rebelliousness.
The final sentence rings so many bells with me. When Plant Hams Hall was still a project and being built there were not so many of us and so one knew each other very well. When the plant started production our motto was “We @ Hams Hall” and it felt more like a family than a business. Then I had my placement in TA-2 Munich engine plant and when I returned to Hams Hall things had changed – silo mentality had gotten a hold on so many people, who previously had been part of the family.
14 years later on I still struggle against this silo mentality, but it is ingrained in most of my colleagues.
I look forward to reading more about T.’s journey through the corporate world.

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