Life Lessons #002: Teamwork in companies — not wanted by managers
I used to work in an advertising company in the Greater Vancouver, Canada, area. I started out in the customer service department before moving into the training department and got a nice trip to the Philippines out of it.
But what I would like to address in this post is the fact that “teamwork” is not wanted by managers.
At this company, the customer service department was managed by someone named Kiran. He was a bright guy, charming, and ambitious. He was the one who hired me, and we got along very well initially because he recognized my work ethic and ideas. I was helpful and professional when dealing with customer service issues. I did a great job for him.
Eventually, I realized he was more interested in building cliques in the office and he treated me as someone who could solve his problems and help him look good — but I was never one of “them.” I was always an outsider and was kept around only because I worked hard and I worked smart, and I got work done and solved his problems. That’s what bosses want.
There are many stories about the cliques, which I’ll save for another time, but for now I’ll talk about the one in which he was a manager who didn’t believe in teamwork.
One day, a manager from the sales department came into the customer service department to talk to Livia, one of the customer service reps. Apparently, Livia had not shown proper etiquette while on the phone speaking to a client, and the sales department manager came in to discuss this with Livia.
At that time, there was only myself and Livia in the room when the sales manager came in. I didn’t think much about what the sales manager said, because it sounded like good advice and something valuable to learn from. I’d worked previously for St. John Ambulance in their customer service department, and we (ie. that department) used to receive all sorts of helpful suggestions from other managers in the organization.
Back to this advertising company… like I said, I didn’t think much about it other than just some friendly advice. But after the sales manager left, Livia (who was hired the same time I was) threw a hissy fit. She didn’t like to be told what to do. I tried to calm Livia down by giving her a pep talk. I said just treat it like it’s constructive criticism. As I was finishing my talk, Kiran walked in. Livia, naturally, complained to Kiran about what had happened. I interjected and said I tried to calm Livia down by saying for her to take it like constructive criticism and move on from that.
Kiran, to my surprise, said, “No, DON’T take it.” He had a scowl on his face and was agitated. I was surprised because Kiran’s role was manager and he wasn’t acting like one. He wasn’t even in the room to witness the incident and was quick to make his own judgement based on what Livia said. Okay, perhaps there’s some history between him and the sales department that I didn’t know about, but still…
Kiran then proceeded to say that NO OTHER department is to come into our department and tell us what to do and what not to do. He even added that if anybody from another department came in and wanted us to do something, ie. help out with anything, say no. Just make an excuse not to do it, ie. We’re busy, etc. etc. etc. And if you offered or volunteered to help out another department, and somehow ran into difficulties, that would be your own fault and Kiran himself wasn’t ever going to bail you out of such a mess. Livia was happy that Kiran had her back.
But think about that last part for a moment: So, we’re all in the same organization/company and we’re supposed to “hate” other departments and not work together? Sadly, Kiran wasn’t the only manager to say this. I’ve heard this sort of instruction from other organizations I’ve worked for, too: Do not agree to help another department when they come asking for help.
I would like to believe that this is stuff you probably just see in movies or TV dramas, but it actually happens in real life too, which is very unfortunate.
With that same company, it was about a year later when there was a business trip to the Philippines, and I was one of the staffers requested to make the trip. I didn’t want to go, but I was told I had to go.
To make a long story short, by that time I had been promoted and was no longer in Kiran’s department, but I was still reporting to him, ie. he was still my immediate manager. During this trip, each department was supposed to put together some sort of performance for the clients. I was not involved in the performance part of the trip, but, again, I was with Kiran’s group.
There was a list with the order in which each department was to do its performance. The company’s Director of Operations, Hillary, asked me to let Kiran know that she wanted the order of the performances changed, which impacted Kiran’s group. (I don’t remember exactly now, but Kiran’s group was supposed to go later than scheduled.) Okay, so I went to Kiran and relayed the message. Kiran snapped and said something to the effect that I’m on his team, not Team Hillary. If I wanted to be on Team Hillary, I might as well not be on his team. I was taken aback and tried to explain I was just relaying the message, but that fell on deaf ears.
I didn’t think anything of it at that immediate moment, but Kiran essentially was done with me. He refused to speak to me again the rest of the trip. Every time I was around, he had a scowl on his face. Every time he was talking to others, he was his charming self. Okay. Whatever.
I was just the messenger. But again, I was used to this sort of thing. Growing up, I had experienced the same sort of thing with my parents. I would be a messenger to deliver some “bad” news. The recipient of the news would snap and accuse me of being on that team and not this team, etc. etc. etc. I was used to it. So, when this happened in a professional setting, I guess I was unfazed. If this could happen at home, it could happen anywhere else.
Back to the Kiran saga. When we returned to Vancouver a few days later after the business trip, I had it out with him in the office. I was no longer going to be treated like I was a slave. When he made an unreasonable request in the office from that point on, I stood up to him and said it was not reasonable or acceptable.
From an employee’s standpoint, my response would be labeled as me being disgruntled or uncooperative. But if you looked at things from my point of view, I was always being cordial and cooperative but there has to be a limit in terms of how poorly bosses treated me. That behaviour exhibited by Kiran during the latter part of that business trip made me not take him seriously anymore. In fact, we had several disagreements in the office after that trip. I was not going to be bullied or treated like a second-class citizen just because he no longer liked me for relaying a message from the Director of Operations.
We still hung out for lunch at times during work — and there are more stories about that, too, some of which were unpleasant — but I no longer took him seriously. More on that on another post.