Our Own Worst Enemy

It has been a tough few weeks in the office.  There is so much going on and so little getting done.  Our internal customers are unhappy, feeding back their displeasure to their management and it cycles up the food chain.  My coworkers are blissfully unaware of how things are going because their view of reality is skewed.  My role?  I use carrots and experience to try to help herd the cats in a positive direction, making incremental improvements in many significant directions.  Mostly I’m successful.

Lately, it has harder and harder to effect change.  I was trying to lead a coworker towards the realization that not planning is tantamount to failing – you never know if you are on track or not.  Let’s be honest, you can only be so lucky for long and he was in denial that he wasn’t lucky.  Our manager had to skip out on a weekly meeting, one in which we had agreed to do a one page project overview (which, yes, I had built) for each of our 5-10 projects for the first quarter. It would be a step forward in our planning process for the year, something that had not been done in the past.

I realized early on that most of these projects would get done in the first half of the year, let alone the first quarter, which was when they were nearly all planned.  We have a habit of letting things sit for 6-12 months before we start.  The spreadsheet I set up for planning looks intimidating, but you could do a swag on a project and have a baseline plan in 20 minutes if you are slow.  5 minutes if you are fast.  Not too much to ask of anyone over a week.

I have to tell you, one of my coworkers has the motto, “I hate meetings; they keep me from getting work done.”  In a small department, communication, coordination and cooperation can make all the difference between success and working in a cesspool.  Needless to say this guy fails on all three C’s as far as I am concerned.  Of course 2 key users love him, so it doesn’t matter that he fails the 150.  He actually suggested the managers sit in a room one afternoon for 3 hours with no disruptions so they would do their spreadsheets in peace.  Seriously?

Back to my meeting, as I lead the meeting, the coworker with the most projects (and the highest level of dissatisfaction) wanted to go over his projects first.    As he read them off and told me a binary yes/no  on a specific spending topic that was not on the agenda, I gently steered the topic to the issue of the planning documents.  He looked at me and curtly said he didn’t do them.  Nor did anyone else except me.  I tried to take the time and explain why it was important.  They reiterated that they didn’t do them.  They were too busy.

Again, I tried to illuminate the value of doing them, beyond the commitment made to our boss to have them done.  One would think that singular reason would be enough.  Who specifically ignores what they tell their boss they will have done by a very specific time? Clearly my coworkers do.  As I started to discuss the benefits (like being able to manage internal customer expectations) I was cut off again.  “I didn’t do them. I’ve told you that.  Move on.”  There was a bark to the message.

Wow.  Can you imagine saying to your father, “Why, yes I did not mow the lawn like I promised.  You heard me. Move on.”  I guess I should tell you that I spend a great deal of time, helping this co-worker get over his disorganization issues.  I cover up a lot of flaws.  Lately, as he has not wanted my help, the flaws are more than glaring.

This is not the first time he’s barked at me in a demeaning, insulting manner. Early in our planning process, he saw the opportunity to grab a “glory assignment” and didn’t want to let it get away.  He was asked when this project would complete, and he got on his soapbox about how wonderful it was and all the benefits to the company and customers and how he would ….  I gently interrupted after about 6 minutes (he doesn’t take breaths) and pointed out that the project would complete sometime in 2013, even though it would start in November 2012.  I saw our boss smile, getting the answer he wanted.

You didn’t think it ended there did you?

There was a 5 minute rant on how I didn’t know everything and I’m not as smart as I think I am.  Well, I did know the question asked was not the question being answered.  I did know the answer to the question and tried to help.  Of course he looked bad and it was cringe-worthy.  Almost straight out of The Office, but sad, not funny.  An no, he’s really not done anything in the intervening months on this project.

There have been many straws and the camel’s back has long been broken.  I won’t do anything I shouldn’t, but I can see there are villagers with picks and rakes and torches at the gate.  I’m not locking it nor am I opening it.  Most of the villagers smile when they pass me.  Many of them ask for my help.

These days I lead a 15 minute standup meeting each morning, meant to give status and encourage communication laterally and upward in our department.  When the lead actor of the preceding scene is there (for that is not a given, though you would think 9:30 am would be easy for most adults) he always tries to take things over.  Ok he doesn’t try, he does.  He doesn’t see his boss’ smile tighten to a small frown or his coworkers look down.  He doesn’t see that our communication meeting, designed to raise issues and educate is not the place to discuss and solve minutiae.  It is to recognize that there is an issue or problem to discuss and schedule time for the right people to meet.  Later.

It’s a rocky sea these days.  I keep waiting for something to happen.  It will. I can read the tea leaves of corporate politics pretty well.  It is one of my skills.

Walking to work this morning I was listening to IPhone and “The Chamber of 32 Doors” came on.  I’m sure a few of you know the story of Rael, who wasn’t quite real, and his quest to get home.  If not, check out the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis 1974.  Anyway, they say she rides on pale horse, but I think I hear a train.  Wait; Wrong song.  One of the repeated themes of this song is:

I need someone to believe in, someone to trust

Clearly I work with people that have lost my trust.  I have lost my faith in some of them.  Like Rael, I try different things and go through different doors trying to reach my goal. Rael gets nowhere, always winding up where he started..

Back inside, this chamber of so many doors
I’ve nowhere, nowhere to hide
I’d give you all of my dreams, if you’d help me
Find a door that doesn’t lead me back again
Take me away

Unlike Rael, I hope this works out better for me.  I don’t want to be a Eunuch.

Is there a moral in all of this?  Of course there is. When your boss asks you to do something, you should do it.  He signs your paycheck.  And if you think it doesn’t matter when continually fall short of your commitments, you’d be wrong also.  And know who is helping you and who isn’t.  If you don’t value them, you won’t have their help indefinitely.  Some work is part of the job.  Some goes above and beyond.  If you don’t want the later, you are fool.

Yeah, this shit gets old fast.

Leave a comment


  1. When it comes to getting small, insular groups of people to actually work together, I can’t help but think of the quote “We have met the enemy and he is us”. Not that any of these cats you are trying to herd have the sense to see that they are being their own worst enemies, but it still applies, imho.

    Totally frustrating. You have my sympathy.

  2. Co-workers are temporary. This too shall pass.


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