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BOFH: There's no 'I' in team, but there's a 'u' in suck

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die ...

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Episode 1 “Team Conference!” the Boss chips quickly in the door of Mission Control before moving on to other offices.

“Welcome ... to ... THE MACHINE!” I murmur to the PFY.

“Say what now?” the PFY asks.

“The Machine. Like in Princess Bride. You’ll notice how management’s been conspicuously quiet over the past couple of weeks?”

“I thought they were still on holiday,” the PFY says.

“Not at all. No, they’ve been out getting another dose of ‘The work practices of highly effective companies’. One of the CEO’s pals from college has himself a virtual money printing service by pretending to know what made Google and Facebook successful and selling the ideas as a training course for management. I can only assume that team meetings are rated highly ...”

“Team conferences I think you’ll find,” the PFY says.

“I sit corrected.”

A few minutes later ...

“So, I’d just like to do a quick around-the-room,” the Boss starts, “and I thought it might be good if we could start the meeting by bringing up any workplace safety issues that anyone might like looked into – because a safe workplace is a happy workplace.”

The uncomfortable silence that follows this is the same that would happen in any workplace. No one wants to be the one who starts the ball rolling – but if it does start, no one wants to be left out. It’s like watching one of those cycling pursuit races ...

“Well they could probably look at screwing the bookshelves to the walls,” a pasty geek from the web team suggests to break the silence.

“And fix the shelves in the photocopier room,” someone else adds. “One day all that paper is going to fall on someone.”

“The wire on the dishwasher is very frayed ...”

AND THEY’RE OFF!!! The Boss is positively glowing!

“You two have been pretty quiet,” the Boss says to the PFY and me when everyone in the room has raised at least one workplace safety issue in the group free-for-all. “Nothing to add?”

“The coffee mugs,” I say, trying to get this over with as quick as possible. “They’re the same colour as the carpet. Someone might not see one and trip on it and have a nasty accident.”

“Really?” the Boss asks disappointedly. “Is that it?”

“I like to think we’re problem-solvers,” I say. “Like for instance the woman that says that her air-conditioning sensor makes crackling noises when she bangs it. Not banging it seems to be one of the more effective ways of eliminating that problem ...”

...

Because of our reticence, the PFY and I end up leaving the meeting with a pad of orange workplace safety forms to fill out – because the Boss is sure that we’ll find something hazardous if we just look hard enough. And to make matters worse, we’ll be having "Team Safety Conferences" every morning for the next two bloody weeks!

Truth be told, I happen to share this opinion – it’s just the ideas themselves I’m not keen on sharing ...

“So how are we getting on?” the Boss asks a couple of hours later. “Got your thinking caps on?”

“Not really,” I admit. “In fact I’m a bit stuck. I mean accidents are accidents – they happen out of the blue. If you were to think about them in advance wouldn’t that almost fall into the area of, I dunno ... planning?”

“Well if you can’t think of anything, you can’t think of anything,” the Boss responds, hastily realising he’ll need to add a couple of names to his hazard list ... “We’ll just work on the issues we have.”

“Oh good, so we’ll stop banging thermostats, avoid loaded bookshelves in earthquakes, etc, and things will be back to normal?”

“Oh no. Each department has agreed to commit resources to fixing safety issues so that staff realise their opinions matter. We’ll be fixing things immediately.”

“And by resources you mean?” the PFY asks, smelling gravy and looking for the train.

“It’ll come out of the operational budget.”

Our operational budget?” I ask.

“The IT operational budget, yes.”

And this is where it gets personal. Your average web page hacker sucks about twenty quid of operational cash in your normal financial year – 25 if he drinks decaf. Screwing all our bookshelves to the wall in an approved manner with earthquake rated restraints is likely to increase that figure by 100 – and I hate to think what a new aircon system will cost.

“Perhaps the issues that have been raised aren’t real issues?” I suggest.

“What do you mean?” the Boss asks.

“Perhaps they’re just problems with user education. I mean we can reduce the risk from bookshelves simply by giving them a low centre of gravity. If people just put all the heavy stuff on the bottom shelf they’d be next to impossible to topple.”

“And the aircon sensor. If the user simply set it to the correct temperature and wore sensible clothing there wouldn’t be a need to change it at all.”

“So you think you can educate people and eliminate some issues?” the Boss asks.

“Absolutely.”

The next morning at the Team Safety Conference ...

“Okay, should we get started?” I ask the Boss. “Busy day ahead.”

“I’m just waiting for everyone to get here,” the Boss counters.

“I ... err ... everyone is here,” The PFY says.

“No, I mean the rest of the team.”

“This is us,” the PFY says.

“No I mean the rest of the staff from the meeting yesterday.”

“Oh them. Well, some of them might be in a little later – busy day yesterday and all that.”

“In what way?”

“Well the bloke who was talking about the photocopier paper stacked on those crap shelves ...”

“Jeff”

“Yes, well he was showing me when the paper actually fell of the shelves. Onto him.”

“And the guy who was talking about the dishwasher,” I add.

“Roger.”

“Turns out the wire WAS frayed, the earth WAS disconnected and when you slammed the door shut the whole thing became live. Just some minor burns and a bit of a fright.”

“And I suppose Jane’s air-conditioning remote caught fire did it?” the Boss snaps.

“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask her I guess.”

“I’ll do that!”

“But you might want to wait a couple of days – she was rushing down a corridor and banged into a bookshelf and it fell on her.”

“Right,” The Boss snaps. “And the rest of the staff can’t remember the things they thought were hazardous I suppose?”

“Well we talked to them, but apparently they don’t think it’s that big of a deal any more,” I say.

“Well we’re still going to address the issues we know about – the shelves, the bookshelves, and the aircon.”

“The aircon’s not a problem!” the PFY chips back.

“And yet I think it is,” the Boss snaps, getting up to leave. “I’ll be putting in a requisition today to sort these issues out, ASAP. Our staff need to know they’re valued and that we take their issues seriously!”

My calming words are drowned out by the slamming of the door as the boss fumes out.

“Wait for it ...” I say

“Wait for wha ..." >CRASH!<

“Goodness, that sounds like someone tripping on a coffee cup and faceplanting a pallet of servers awaiting recycling,” I say. “You know – I pointed that out yesterday and the company did nothing about it. And yes, I think the Boss is right, I feel so devalued!” ®

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