Conflict resolution?

Our department (let’s call it D) had a certain amount of rivalry with the guys down the corridor (who I will refer to as C) who dealt with larger customers. There was a lot of bad feeling (probably not helped by our general referral to their leadership team as Funny Haircut and the Angel of Doom, but you know how it is with office banter). I thought I tried pretty hard to maintain open channels of communication and seek collaborative solutions – they thought I was intransigent.

Then the powers that be had a brilliant idea. A team building exercise. Because everybody loves those.Well everybody was up for a day put of the office anyway so a bus was arranged and the whole lot of us; both departments though of course everybody sat with their tribe.

I was dreading it. At no point in my life had I thought paint balling, brilliant idea, must give it a try. As far as I could tell it combined several things I disliked – borrowed (smelly) clothes, being outside in the rain, physical exertion, presence and, of course, the actual fake conflict.

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We were kitted out and briefed. They made a particular point of the several mere minimum firing distance so as not to cause actual injury.

Whoever was in charge seemed to make a tactical error though as the teams were split by C and D. Not an opportunity to build camaraderie between competing colleagues at all then, just a chance to spend the whole day swearing at the rival department while trying to kill them. In what world did that sound like a helpful approach?

As expected it was all rather dreadful. Mild mannered admin clerks started hurling themselves over hilltops with highly colourful renderings of “let’s get those unpleasant fellows in D”. The drizzle continued all day. The stand-offs were frankly so dull that I found myself deciding to storm forts single handed just because I couldn’t stand crouching in a wet bramble bush a minute longer. We won some we lost some. My only lasting memory was when my faulty gun went off and shot me in the leg, not from the minimum distance of several meters, but from a much smaller distance of the thickness of a nasty pair of canvas trousers. A millimeter or two I suppose. Ankle to hip souvenir bruise.

I’m not saying this activity put me off teams for ever but it was certainly a contributing factor to my prevailing view that collaboration beats teamwork any day of the week. Just think how much we could all have achieved if we had worked together. Maybe not in the paintball wars but certainly in the business.

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