Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dysfunctions Of A Team

Image Credit, Amazon. 

I logged into Amazon to see what today's Kindle Daily Deal might be.  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (J-B Lencioni Series) by Patrick Lencioni.  $2.99 today, ordinarily probably about $13., The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Well today is the Fourth  Month-a-versary of my retirement so what the hell, I decided to treat myself to a book that I will probably never read.  The premise of the book looks interesting to me.  This guy writes business fiction that teaches the business lesson in the form of a "parable" within the novel.  My particular interest in this book is that it is about teamwork which I found to be a rather interesting subject both at work and when I was taking business classes at college.

My experience with teams at work is that they generally only function when you have a team of specialists that  must provide input because no one else can provide the expertise. When you have X number of people on a team, equally qualified to work on a problem, you will end up with one self appointed advertising executive shouting to the world all of the amazing things this group will accomplish and otherwise does nothing, two people who actually do the all work and X-2 people who come to the meetings either as prisoners or vacationers but offering little in the way of help. But I have generally found that when it comes to taking credit, the team will return to its original number of X members...especially if a recognition dinner is involved and there is a chance to schmooze with the royalty.

I belonged to a product team that had a leader from marketing that envisioned himself as the head coach of the Steelers.  "Ok, Jane, you are my quarter back. Bob, you are my wide receiver. Sextant, you are my ah? ah?  Well sit over there for now."  What the hell is this guy talking about?  We manufacture large highly specialized, highly reliable heavy electrical equipment that can weigh as much as 90 tons and this guy sounds like an announcer from ESPN, talking a bunch of crap that I know nothing about. I don't follow sports. "OK team! It third and 10 and you are my first string...make me proud!"  Go to hell, Jack, I am not "YOUR" anything. I come here to do my job, but don't give me this "rah rah go team" bullshit. I started working here when you were still shitting your diapers.  Damn, that guy could get under my skin.  Well as you can see I wasn't much of a team player, although many times I ended up being one of the two worker bees. However, True Confession: unless I was directly responsible for something, I tended toward the obviously pissed off prisoner status--that way the pollyannas would generally leave me alone and find some other poor sap to do the stupid tasks.  I quit going to recognition dinners, when I realized that, schmoozing with the bosses in a place that looked like a 18th century French bordello and served food that was undercooked, tasted like hell, had a name that I couldn't pronounce and served with too many forks was really not my thing.  You know, if we would have went to a Pizza Hut, I might have at least enjoyed the meal.  For the most part I regarded these stupid teams as being the result of someone reading too many issues of the Harvard Business Review.      

Then my experience at college. I was in my late 40s, my boss told me that I should take some college courses to show that I was a go getter. Hmmm! Me a go getter?  So I figured business courses would reflect go gettingness without getting bogged down in the heavy math requirements of engineering which is what I really should have been taking.   Every rotten business class I took emphasized a team project and team presentations, and team this and team that.  What a crock of shit. Then for some of these presentation we were required to wear formal business dress. So here I am a middle aged cranky man with a bunch of college kids.  We would set up a meeting, one kid would show up. Divide up the work.  Nothing from any body but the one kid that showed up at the meeting.  The first mile stone presentation is coming up and 4 members haven't done a damn thing.   Then it occurred to me.  I do reports and presentations at work that are far more complicated than this crap and it actually applies to the real world where there is real money and real human life at stake.  Why am I crapping around with these young punks...just do the whole damn thing yourself and be done with it.  I presented my offer to the rest of the group, they gladly accepted.  And that was how I handled team projects for the rest of my classes.  All the rest of the group only had to read their email.  I would send them their part of the presentations.   The day of presentation, invariably four of us would be in formal business attire, and a fifth member (aways a guy) in a grubby tee shirt, reading his part off  the paper that I brought to class verbatim. We always got an A, but we shouldn't have.  The idiot with the tee shirt on should have dragged our grades down.  I hated those stupid team projects.  Yet they seemed to be the hallmark of business education in the late 90's.  One semester, I had a project at work that was turning to shit quick and was going to occupy a lot of my time so I dropped the semester and somewhere along the line decided that I was not a go getter and the only place I was going was out the door when I either got laid off or retired.  So much for business education. It was most intellectually stultifying courses I had ever taken.  
“Franky, Brandon, I am concerned.  Our forecasted
 marginal cost  savings realized from leveraging
 our suppliers in
Singapore is diminished within
 the integral of the flattened demand due to the
 Apple announcement and the increase in production
 from our competitors in
Shanghai.  Did you get the
 power point done? 
Brandon, we have a presentation
in 5 minutes with the team, where are your pants?
  Oh God, you are so like those guys in my group
 projects at Harvard, never ready for presentation.”

So here I am retired and I bought a business fiction book on the joys of team work.  Will I read it?  I may, it is fiction after all, and I spent thirty five years as a character in the fiction of team work.  Business fiction?  Hmmmm.  Maybe some product development team at a publishing house can start pushing the Business Fiction genre which would naturally evolve into romantic business fiction...will his supply curve match her demand curve, and will their hearts meet at the asymptotic saturation?  Which would then of course evolve into erotic business fiction.  And I can expand my book club empire by becoming the grand poobah of the Kindle Erotic Business Fiction Book Club...lessons in business and one night team work that will rip your bodice.  


  1. I feel your pain, about the business meetings.
    Brings back many memories from days of yore when I was gainfully employed. I always, without exception, came as the prisoner.
    Hated that meetings....presentations.... .ugh....
    Now my group meetings are attended by only and I never have to do anything or have any input and I can get up and leave whenever I want....
    I showed em'.

  2. Were your team leaders hockey coaches? Going to a sports motif for heavy manufacturing always put me in a bad mood. That and "you are my..." As far as I know slavery went out of fashion in the US after the Civil War.

    Did the pissed off prisoner tactic work for you? The one that got me was the vacationers. Pleasant, happy, and no did they do that? The prisoners and the vacationers would leave the meetings equally with no tasks, yet the vacationers were calm, had low blood pressure, and carefree, and the prisoners were all pissed off. Then you had the two poor saps that thought this shit was for real.

  3. And you thought Ann Tyler was boring! Actually, I wonder if such a thing as "business fiction" exists.

  4. Oh my gosh! What a hilarious yet truthful post! And your little cartoon with Brandon is sheer perfection. Good thing I'm reading this at lunch at my desk while everyone is gone to lunch because I'm just laughing out loud(lol'ing as they say!) and choking on my diet Pepsi!!

    I too went back to school for the same reasons you did in the late 90's and also attended a university where we had to give lots of presentations. We had 5 to 6 people on our team and guess what nickname I ended up with? Lil Hitler. Not a very pleasant name but because I was all business and lets get this done I was a little dictator'ish.

    To tell the truth, I did 98% of the work and we had one lady that was a marketing rep that did nothing but show up on the day of the presentation asking for her part so she could proofread it real quick.

    But I did get my degree and doubled my salary instantly so I guess it was all good. Thanks for the good read at lunch and I'll have to get myself a kIndle so I can be part of the Kindle Erotic Business Fiction Book Club, the KEBFBC!

    You mentioned somewhere that you write super long posts...we'll I'm guilty of super long when it comes to comments!

  5. Alicia,

    Thank you for following my blog, I started following yours several days ago when I saw one of your comments on Jo's blog, but fear I am lost in the 10 dozen other followers you have. Good blogs get lots of followers, congratulations on your merry band.

    I appreciate any comments, and especially long ones--it helps to make my posts look shorter. I haven't quite embraced the Twiterization of the modern mind. I don't believe that messages have to be shorter than 137 characters. I have a vast respect for people who can express what they have to say in paragraphs rather than fragments.

    Congratulations on finishing school and doubling your salary. I was in sort of the opposite situation. I worked as an engineer in a non-professional technician's pay grade. But that pay included time and half and double time. Becoming a professional I would have got a minimal raise over the tech grade but lost my premium overtime and union protection. It did not make sense to lose money for a title, so I dropped out of school. But I have a great respect for people who go back and get their degrees as adults. It is not an easy thing to do, so kudos to you.

    BTW, I have been reading and commenting over at your blog. The Vegas post is sad but one of the best pieces of bloggery that I have ever read. Excellent post with a very valuable message. That to me is what blogging is about. Thanks again for following mine. Glad to have given you a chuckle!

  6. When i took ed courses to get my Master's i had to take some at Cal State Dominguez Hills-eventually i went to Chapman. One stuffed old lady 9look at me now) was apparently the queen of "cooperative learning" so she designed the class as if we were all in her 6th grade. That was the hallmark of ed classes-confusing us with those we might teach. talk about fun! So LOTS of group projects and talk of how we needed this "essential" skill to succeed in life. Shut any critical thought on that down. You better like it or you "fail life." I was in one group where another member-Asian woman-told me that i was stupid. That I needed to learn to write and that HER husband was getting a PHD. Big deal-Cal State. Anyway she wanted to do all the work and get me booted off. Hey I'm thinking I'm the one that got into Princeton-you are a dumbs=75^^4 but you have to work with "all kinds of people." Next she tries to turn me into the old lady. Then she sabotages my part of the project. Then I DECIDE that I've had ENOUGH. So I presented to the class by telling everyone all of this. That the group format has been stressful, that this person got personal, that it was difficult to know why she was stabbing me in the back and so on. It didn't really solve much but did raise MY GRADE. After that though the whole class went up in flames-just bringing the house DOWN on how much they resented the idea of working together AND being group graded. i rather loved that and the teacher was really defensive. Pretty much from there it got better. The teacher had called one black student her homeboy- I think because his school was Cal state dominguz hills-the rest of us were just coming there to get a credit-he left in outrage over being called "homeboy." It was then-thirty years ago i realized LA had a lot of race related issues and what cooperative learning was REALLY for was an attempt at race relations. Plain and simple. It's a structure for that and then it was being imposed over top of the rest.
    so...a trip down memory lane.

    1. Sarah,

      It sounds like you had some night mares of group experiences. Mine were all in undergrad and I was mid 40s dealing with guys not old enough to legally drink. They were more than happy to let me do the whole manna from heaven.

      I had more than one teacher tell me I would "fail life". A music teacher made this prediction over my inability to properly identify a G clef in 7th grade. That resulted in a 5 minute lecture to the class that I would be a failure in life and she fully expected that I would spend my life in the gutter or prison. I did fail to appreciate music until I took music appreciation in college because it was a cake course.

      A math teacher (retired navy captain) told me that I was not cut out to be a college student, my presence in this college was denying a more qualified student a seat and was lowering the standards and academic performance of the college. He recommended that I immediately quit college and join the navy. I failed his class but had straight As in the rest of my classes.

      While I was in the Air Force, I took some classes at a local community college near the base I was assigned. I had a speed reading teacher tell me that people like me were going to be the down fall of western civilization. Wow! The problem? I had been in this guy's class for a month. My other classes were early in the morning and this class was at one o'clock in the afternoon. I had spent a month listening to how colonels from the base had benefitted from his speed reading course, how various professors at this school improved their speed and comprehension of reading,,, corporate CEOs, clergy, doctors. This class was miraculous, I could expect to see my income improve, and the future would be bright, just by learning to speed read. One month into the class and we had not done a damn thing about speed reading. It was something more of a speed reading appreciation class than a speed reading class. It reminded me a lot of the University of Phoenix commercials that we see on TV. So I wanted to drop the class and needed him to sign the drop form. He couldn't understand why. With my haircut it was obvious that I was from the base and for the 43 bazzionth time he told me that "colonels and master sergeants had sent him letters of appreciation in how speed reading had helped them in the military careers." I said I didn't give a shit about colonels and master sergeants, I wanted to improve my reading not hear about colonels and master sergeants. Yeah, OK, I was a bit snarky. He blew up, disrespect for authority was why we were losing in Vietnam and that my attitude would result in the domino effect with the eventual communist take over of the US of A. This guy was screaming at me, and I started screaming back. It was really getting ugly. Finally I said either sign the drop form or I will take this up with the college administration. He signed the form and stormed off. The predicted communist take over did not occur, but I was probably in some way instrumental for the fall of the Nixon Administration. Oh I am giving my self far too much credit, I was just one of Spiro Agnew's "pusillanimous pussyfooters," "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history." Fortunately I did not possess the intellectual horsepower to make it into the "effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals." In any event I apologize to the nation, had I simply remained in that speed reading class, our fortunes in Vietnam would have been reversed. Ho Chi Minh City would now be Nixonville.

      Oooppps! Too long, continued below.

    2. Continued from above:

      I had a dean at the University of Pittsburgh tell me that he was not in favor of allowing part time students in the school of Arts and Sciences. "There is a synergy of the educational experience, living in the dorm, participating in college social life, taking full academic credit loads under which the full time student thrives and is denied to the part time student." I explained that I was 32 years old, married, mortgaged, working a full time union job but stuck on second shift which meant that I had to attend day classes and I was majoring in computer science to improve my lot in life. He replied back that the School of Arts and Sciences was not for vocational training. (To which I thought, then why the f--- is computer science in the school of arts and sciences?) Staring off at some point 15 degrees off the horizon he told me that the mission of the School of Arts and Sciences was not "income potential" but rather to "broaden the student's horizons" and provide society with a "generation of thinking good citizens through a liberal arts education." And here I thought I was being a good citizen by spending 4 years in the Air Force. Silly me. Exasperated, I asked him would you have me divorce my wife, quit my job, sell my house, move into the dorm, and mix and mingle by taking co-eds 12 years my junior to the spring fling? He advised that I had missed my opportunity in life (alas going off into the wild blue yonder was not all that it was cracked up to be) and if I couldn't attend classes at the school of General Studies (night classes at Pitt--which I gathered he considered a waste of university resources) then I should consider attending a community college. I didn't bother telling him that I already had two associate degrees.

      Hmmm! Shame to bury this line of bullshit in a post 2 years old, I think I will make a new post of this.

      Sarah, thanks for stopping by and commenting.