Process and procedure are the key tasks for cubicle sharecroppers like me. Procedures are executed and processes are followed, or, if you’re senior enough, managed. There is usually a built in co-dependency where one person can’t do their job unless someone else does theirs (in the trade we call this an end to end dependency) and this means that everyday, garden variety, office workers are deployed in teams.
The job of management is to organize the team in such a way as to ensure the work flows from one desk to another without interruption. The upside of this is that we are all in it together, even if no-one ever sees or understands all of it. The downside is that the work is never done. Come back tomorrow and there’s another day of passing the baton to a colleague who’s also passing the baton to a colleague who’s also…
But the big thing that comes from all this team work is that no-one ever looks you in the eye and says thank you.
The team gets thanked, the team is congratulated, and the team is acknowledged. Awards are presented, gongs received, certificates stuck on noticeboards, and there might even be visit from executive-land to encourage the team: all these are placeholders for saying thank you.
The culture of team building identifies the cubicle sharecropper only as a member of a group, a group designed and constructed not for the benefits of togetherness but for the management of process and the execution of procedure. The team and its function are defining: do the process and you’re part of the team, not do it and you’re not. The team is the congratulatory handshake.
The cruelty of this arrangement is that we can pass the baton for years and call it collaborative practice but doing so will never result in an acknowledgement that what we do something particular, that we (in our little cubicles) are particular. That means that it doesn’t matter how many times certificates are presented to the team because no one can tell the difference between the team and the team members.
And if you can’t see me, how can you thank me?