Sunday, April 11, 2010

Corporate ideas that go splat...

Upper management in high-tech start-up companies often wants to create a "Kool Kulture." Start-ups are supposed to be such nifty, neato places to work that the employees are happy to work all kinds of long hours just to be part of the fun.

So, the executive staff tries to come up with clever ways to "build culture." Of course, culture is something that happens based on how the personalities on the people leading the company as well as the relationships that form over time. When management tries to force the issue, their efforts often fall flat.

Recently, one of the managers where I work decided that a great way to get people to bond was to have everyone share some mortifying or embarrassing moment that happened to them. The idea was well meant -- showing vulnerability towards another can lead to trust between people. But, when the idea was presented at our weekly company meeting, my first reaction was horror. Uh, you want me to get up and have people laugh at me because I did something stupid? Lovely. Just the impression I want my co-workers to have of me. And to leave myself open to being forever teased about the event?

I checked my reaction with a person I trust there as well as a few friends (interestingly enough, all women). Everyone I spoke with validated that my horror at having to endure endless stories of humiliation was reasonable. Nope, I wasn't being overly sensitive (I was teased mercilessly as a child, so I do have some sensitivities in this area).

But, I kept silent. Until the day when I was called on to volunteer to be the next victim at an upcoming meeting. And, somewhat to my surprise, I demurred, politely. But when pressed (I was told that "we'll let you go for now, but you WILL be called on), I made it clear I would not participate in this new venture. And immediately wondered if I had just made a career-limiting move. The only saving grace was that the others who were tagged after me also indicated that they were not interested in playing along.

I'm not sure why I decided not to play the corporate game this time around. Usually, I would go along, feeling that it was necessary to be a "team player." For some reason, I decided that I had to set a boundary and if I didn't want to do something that had nothing to do with my job responsibilities, I just didn't have to. No need to explain my reasons to anyone.

Curiously enough, the manager decided to not continue this practice. Was it me, taking a stand against something that offended me, that led to others taking the same stand? Did other managers feel the same and send that message along? I'll never know for sure, but I do feel good that I decided to set a standard and keep to it. And, I'm thrilled that this nonsense has ended. Ugh. Really, there are so many positive ways to get people to share some personal details about themselves without focusing on humiliation and shame. What leads people to think these things are fun?

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