What we’ve been reading: Team building, power moves and Snapby
Welcome to What We've Been Reading, the AccountingWEB editors’ weekly round up of the stories that have caught their attention.
From open space offices to team building, this week WWBR tackles some of the common annoyances of office life. So it’s advisable that you refrain from reading this in full view of everyone else in the office - it will save you from those accusatory stares.
In order to round-up the most interesting stories from the week, the regular AccountingWEB team are joined by Kat Haylock, who regular visitors to our sister site UK Business Forums will recognise as their community editor.
Enjoy the roundup of stories from our editors, and let us know if there's something that caught your eye or if you'd like to disagree with any of our choices.
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This isn’t the first time we’ve written about open plan offices in WWBR, and until we’re mercifully granted walls (glass ones don’t count, senior management) it won’t be the last.
Open plan offices were supposed to make us better communicators, giving us the freedom to bat ideas around like the vivacious, irrepressible creatives we apparently are. In reality, I’ve watched a guy pick his nose for the last half hour and I think someone’s got fish for lunch. Bright side: only another forty years of this to go!
As Golby’s (very funny) article points out, open plan offices do make fertile ground for office power moves though. Making a powerfully loud phone call while stalking around the office? Power move. Becoming the only person who can fix the coffee machine? Power move. Shouting ‘Hey’ across a room to get someone to come over to you, and them actually doing it? Enormous power move.
“Power can be grabbed in a variety of ways: general competence at your job (out); networking and being liked by those who sit on the greasy ladder above you (out); working longer and harder than everyone else (out) to make yourself stand out clear above those around you (out, out, out).
These are all unworkable solutions; what you need are shortcuts and cheats. Pull your power moves together and you'll be running the place within a year.”
“On the second floor of the new headquarters of Snap Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif., is a room dedicated to helping employees open up,” begins this remarkable profile of Snap and its founder Evan Spiegel.
The room is a sanctuary of sorts. “Employees show up in groups of about a dozen, sit cross-legged on black cushions, and take turns with the ‘talking piece,’ a heart-shaped purple geode that gives the bearer the right to confidentially share deep thoughts.”
It’s hard to think of, in recent memory, a more crystalline example of Silicon Valley’s hippy-dippy corporatism. As if the billions of dollars invested in the once flourishing, but now floundering, business has any righteous concern for employees’ feelings and neuroses.
It’s hard to tell whether Evan Spiegel, Snap’s founder, actually believes this stuff. He makes the right noises, talks about Snap’s mission, of having a conscience. He has a lovely uplifting motivational quote from the spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson framed on his office wall.
But for all of this new age kookiness and anodyne talk of making the world a better place, it’s impossible to miss the fact that Spiegel is a mandarin in high stakes game of VC investment. It’s hard to forget the merciless way he screwed over Snap’s co-founder, or his rather uncharming rich-to-riches story defined by nepotism, favours and pathological cockiness.
All of the talk, about feelings and making the world a better place, means nothing. It’s as ephemerally meaningless as a message sent on Snapchat itself.
I’m sure at one point in your career you’ve been forced to build a balloon tower or untangle a human knot. All great fun in theory but less so when it’s late in the day, when everyone is a little sweaty, and the last place you’d want to be at that time is clamped under the armpit of a co-worker.
But we’ve all been there. I can remember being blindfolded and dragged along an open field in a three-legged race like a speed-averse jockey clinging on to their horse. I actually saw the funny side of things, but I can imagine team building not being everybody’s sack race.
Team building exercises can often breed resentment towards your fellow team members (the exact opposite of what the exercise intended on achieving). That blindfolded trust fall, I’m sure, still causes office animosity between Karen from accounts and Jeff from the tax team (“All you had to do was catch me, Jeff!”).
Of course, the point of team building exercises is not to cause frosty kitchen interactions. As we all are perfectly aware, team building exercises are supposed to increase communication and bring cohesion to the team. Great in practice, but as the examples from Alison Green’s article show, things do not always go to plan.
In one rather unfortunate team building exercise, a worker described a team building exercise where she and her co-workers had to spit soda in each other’s mouths. The article didn’t detail how such activity contributed towards the company achieving their chosen financial metrics.
In another quirky example, another worker was made to watch videos about the leadership skills of dolphins. Others have felt singled out because medical conditions prevent them from participating more active events.
Bear in mind if you’re organising your own team building day, as Green said, “too often employers schedule team-building events without putting real thought into how they'll produce better results, or they use them as a substitute for more meaningful work on communication or co-operation issues.”