I've been in lockdown at work for the last two days, being "developed". Not with the white room crew, but with the balloons and sausage-sizzle side of the operation.
The teams that really need some development don't put their hand up for this kind of thing normally, so in a way it's an easy win. You get to go 'off campus' and sit in a room with a flipcharts and coloured pens talking about how great it would be if we all respected and valued each others differences, share some dodgy catering and look out of a different window for a while. Normally I'd sign right up for a tour of duty, and in fact that's excatly what I did when this was mooted. It's been ages now since I left the corporate world, and I thought I'd get the same kick out of doing the quiz and getting the little graph or chart or colour code, or animal sign or whatever the fuck this one would be, as I used to. It was one of the perks of working in a giant company - the world-class quizzes. They end up being in the realm of 'emergency fallback conversation topics' just under Monty Python and just above root canal dentistry for being largely neutral politically and a pretty wide-reaching experience that people have an opinion about.
Somewhere along the line, something's changed for me. There was no frisson of discovery as I recieved my little animated trivial pursuit pie chart of rainbow colours. There was no passionate buy-in from me as the team decided that all their core values and beliefs stemmed from LOVE and made that the umbrella statement for the shared vision, with all the fabulous, feel good generic statements actively dot-pointed underneath. It was a pumping workshop, and where was I? It turned out that I was the one with the cynical eyebrow and the willingness to ask the facilitator "why?". I was the grouch, the fly in the ointment, the devil's advocate. I'm still not really sure why I wanted so badly to piss on that chirpy rainbow, but there was something deeply inauthentic about letting a room full of kids and newbies get carried away with such starry-eyed hope and glamour before we put in any groundwork and built up some (any?) skills about what it really takes to accomodate difference, handle the consequences of honesty or even simple communication such as confirming meanings people have for words that seem simple. Words like, say, "communication" which someone was adamantly arguing was sufficient to cover 'feedback', 'teamwork', 'honesty' AND (my favourite) 'measures'. Woah! Busy word!!
So did I do any good? I'm not sure that I did. It was my intention to influence the group to aim for something shared and incremental. My experience has taught me that small but real/concrete gains are far better than large, vague, hugely far reaching and perfectly unattainable gains (such as a mission statement including clauses along the lines of "create pride in the city") that half of the attendees never opened their mouths to support, didn't have an opportunity to contribute to in their "prefered mode of communication" (one of the major "linking skills" we did the quiz to uncover) nor in a way that reflected the established diversity of profile strengths. All I managed was to get a few people confused, one or two people nodding, a further reputation as a pointless ranter and condescendingly co-opted to 'write up the outcomes as you're so good with words'. Great. Oh yeah, and give myself a massive headache.
It reminds me of the only time I've done one of these and didn't get a little print-out with a chart. The pair of people running the session really knew their stuff, and they stood us up in the drab motel conference room and called out names, grouping people around the room in what seemed like no particular order. I was on my own. I didn't get to hear what anyone else was told. There was no high-fiving. I can barely remember what they said to me, because the surprise of the first part stopped too much of the rest of it sinking in.
"You are a fool." They told me. "You are the court jester, and you will tell the truth, and no one will listen."
I thought about that conversation this afternoon as I came home. I pondered the workshop, and the workplace I returned to. I thought about my own under-siege sense of joy and resiliance in the face of constant frustrations and limitations and I wished for two things. I wished I could remember anything else those people had said on that long afternoon all those years ago that might help me make more sense of what to do with my life now, and I wished that I'd lightly shrugged very early today and let it all go with a smile and a quip, had a bit of a caper and a jape, and not tried to take on the weight of the world, at least not without giving folks a joke to take the edge off.
One more thing I wish for. I wish that I hadn't read my little animated trivial pursuit pie chart of rainbow colours where it said "Creativity: 18%".