Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Drivel in Your Office

It looks cute and adorable but the by-product
of a bull and grass might be cluttering up your office. 
It is good to be back on the blogosphere.  I took a week off because a combination of personal and professional pressures made it hard to get anything done.  I have been finding it difficult to do any writing of a meaningful nature.  This week, I want to talk about the little things that add up and make you miserable in the office.

One of the common things office workers describe in great detail is called the spiral of rage.  In short, little annoyances pile up which are outside your control.  An office printer low on ink, combined with no coffee at the coffee pot, an irritating co-worker and unrealistic deadline pressure combine into an explosive and combustible mixture where you are a helpless passenger in your angry body.  We tend to trivialize these emotions and call them first world problems but to people in the cubical near you they are very real.

These problems impact productivity and the happiness of the people in the office because they illustrate the lack of control, empowerment, and authority they have earning a living.  They can’t pick up a phone and ask for help because there are too many layers of corporate bureaucracy between them and the person that can fix the problem.  What makes this more maddening is that the person who can fix the problem is a few desks down but is powerless to help without an e-mail from someone at the corporate office.

I call these situations “drivel” because it sounds sophisticated and it is more professional than the term my father uses for the by-product of grass and a bull.  In Harry G. Frankfurt’s essay “On BullS#%t”, he says that “drivel” is not lying but rather the use of language to obscure.  The contemporary office is filled with “drivel” and it is up to us as scrum masters to deal with it so our people can concentrate on work.

I find that most “drivel” is caused by the toxic mix of lack of authority and the devious application of authority by others.  For instance, that co-worker who can’t help fix the problem is overworked with numerous requests so they use the e-mail from corporate as an excuse not to help.  That person may also use that alibi to spend some time looking up train sets online or day-trading stocks.  The situation makes you feel equally powerless to do your job.

Another situation comes to mind when I was an entry level programmer at ServiceMaster.  Robert Pollard, the CEO, had just asked the office to go to business casual.  He still wore a bow tie to work.  Many of the executives continued to ware dress shirts and bow ties.  When promotions were announced, the executives who wore bow ties were advanced over those who did not.  It was a sick game of copy-cat but the message was loud and clear.  If you wanted to advance in the organization you needed to ware something other than business casual.

So “drivel” instead of shipping product guides your business.  It is aggravating but it is something that every scrum master needs to deal with and I am looking forward to hearing from other scrum masters about how you deal with it.

Until next time.