I wrote this short scene, which has been performed many times in companies and public organisations over the last ten years, in order to get to the heart of collusion in organisational life. It’s based on real comments I heard after a leadership workshop. Feel free to use it in your own sessions and workshops.
(Scene- a works canteen. Manager brings tray to table where Supervisor is already seated, eating lunch)
Manager: Do you mind if I…?
Supervisor: Go ahead.
(Manager puts tray down and sits opposite the sitter. They eat in silence)
Manager: So, what did you think of the leadership workshop, then?
Supervisor: Oh, it was okay.
(Pause. They continue to eat)
Manager: No, really. What did you think?
Supervisor: You really want to know?
Manager: Yes, I do.
(They continue to eat)
Manager: I don’t mind if you are honest.
Supervisor: Okay. It as a waste of time.
(Pause as manager takes this in. He stops eating. Supervisor carries on eating)
Manager: A waste of time?
Supervisor: Actually, it was a load of bollocks.
Manager: Well, that is honest. A waste of time and a load of bollocks.
(Pause. Supervisor continues to enjoy his meal and the Manager looks on. Supervisor stops eating)
Manager: Care to say why?
Supervisor: Well, I suppose I should also say it was bloody good as well.
Manager: I see.
Manager: Actually I don’t see. If the workshop was a load of bollocks and a waste of time, how was it also bloody good?
(Supervisor has almost finished his meal)
Supervisor: It was good yes. In a way. I don’t usually like outsiders coming in with stupid, patronising exercises and tools and techniques that no one ever uses. But this guy WAS a bit different. Sure, he was a bullshitter. And he looked like one of those management gurus with his bald head and polo-neck sweater. But I liked what he said about that collusion stuff…
Manager: Collusion of mediocrity…
Supervisor: Yeah. He said that organisations don’t really deliver when everyone avoids saying how they really feel; when everyone looks for safety by being too nice all of the time. You end up with this “collusion of mediocrity” – fake, superficial niceness, but nothing ever really changes in case it upsets anyone. Well…
Manager: Well, what?
Supervisor: Well, that’s us, isn’t it?
Manager (considering this): Mmm, partly I suppose.
Supervisor: I think it’s us all of the time. But that’s just my view…
Manager: I see. (Short pause) So, why was it bollocks then? It seems to me that this workshop struck a chord with you.
Supervisor: The workshop as bollocks because everyone ad their say.
Manager: Isn’t that good?
Supervisor: No. It’s bollocks. Everyone had their say, but nobody said how they really felt. No one in stores had a bad word to say about Scheduling despite all the shit we’ve had over the last few months. We KNOW that the supervisors are pissed off about the new shift patterns and the ban on the radio being on; and all THEY talked about was the loos being flooded again. We ended up with loads of flip charts and none one word of it was real. The trainer praised us all for breaking his poxy world record for a brainstorm. And then YOU thanked us all for the “valuable” input. So, what have you done with it?
Manager: Done with what?
Supervisor: Our “valuable” input.
Manager: (wrong footed) Er.. It’s being… er.. processed.
Supervisor: I bet they are.
(Manager looks around, a little sheepishly)
Supervisor: You won’t do a thing with those ideas, except maybe get the ladies’ bogs unblocked again. Not that those ideas where what people really wanted to say anyway. And that is why it was a waste of time. I bet you’re all congratulating yourselves on another excellent training course.
Manager: Look, Chris. Don’t you think you’re being a bit negative? These are really harsh comments. The feedback sheets for the Leadership Programme have been mostly in the upper quartile.
(Supervisor downs his coffee and gets up to leave)
Supervisor: In the upper quartile ! Top marks eh? Really? Then I take it all back. You have my apologies. I’ll keep my mouth shut next time.
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