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How to demotivate an entire team

September 10, 2013

I am a freelance Consultant to a number of different businesses and with holidays etc I am having to play catch up and working shedloads. Which I enjoy. And the other day was a day of ups and downs and headbanging frustration but a great rollercoaster ride nonetheless.

It started with reviewing materials on the computer – calm, quiet, introvert inspection. It moved to meeting to agree a position between three of us and was an enjoyable discussion and meeting of minds. It then moved on to the telecon from hell. Four of us on the line from the UK and half a dozen or so elsewhere. But obviously not all there at the start. No we have the usual revisiting of decisions already taken in the first 15 minutes, followed by a realisation that the key player isn’t actually on the phone so no decision can be taken.

But we all took a decision a few days ago, why can’t we stick with that? Nothing’s changed. Then someone else joins the call. And introduces a whole new, incoherent element to the proceedings. We discover this is actually someone very senior whose views we should listen to but I have got to the point of no return. I am trying to interrupt the ramblings but am not getting anywhere until he decides to draw breath. By which time I am seething with anger at what I see as lack of clarity and vision from someone so high up and that’s it. I’m on my feet and yelling in to the speakerphone. i am invoking company mission statements in a bid to get them to understand that what they are suggesting is unacceptable to their own company, not just me. I rail for a good minute. And there is complete silence at the other end.

It was a different silence to the one when you ask brightly”Does any one have any ideas?” and you can hear people shuffling, wriggling, metaphorically looking down at their feet. No, this silence was total. As if we’d been cut off. It was a void of shock and disbelief. I realised I had gone too far but it was too late. I felt my contract swinging in the breeze but felt vindicated by my righteousness. (Won’t feel so clever if I can’t pay the mortgage though!).

And then someone at the other end broke the ice and acknowledged that it was a blistering attack and I’d stung them in to silence. But then we moved on. To a degree. Until someone else joined the call and we had to start over. And then we moved on to the main reason for the call, Having used up half the time on a side issue. The person whose call it was was doing her best to retain control and in the end it came down to her apologising for “being brutal” but asking for an actual unequivocal yes or no from the two most senior people there. Everyone else had put their cards on the table, but at the end of the day, these two had to make the call. They are paid high salaries to make high level decisions. To be fair, one of them did step up to the plate and do it. But the other? He weasel-worded his agreement in such a way that it was clear he was only agreeing because everyone else was. Here he was, the most senior person on the call and yet presumably he had just floated in to that position, and has stayed there, resting on the shoulders of his subordinates. Leadership my arse.

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