• Philip Bryer

I Lived on a Battlefield


Man versus Team Building. Who was that man? That man was me.

Let me take you back to when I started the job in Bath. Mrs B and I had moved from south west London to a Somerset village and I had secured a position. I had been in said job for little more than a month - and was beginning to think it had all been a terrible mistake - when I received the email which confirmed it had been.

‘Save The Date!’ it began. Three words to always be viewed with the deepest foreboding. Most true in this case. It went on:

‘Welcome to the Company Games Day! (yet another exclamation mark, and so soon? What is it with HR people and their aversion to simple grammar?) I won’t inflict much more verbatim reporting of the actual wording of this foul and baleful missive, although I remember it all too well.

We had been put into teams (Who dares to put me where I will not go?), and had been given time to think of a stirring name for our allotted group. T-shirts would be provided bearing this name. Clearly we would have to look the part when yelling out our battle cry and singing our team song. All true so far? Great Gosh A’Mighty and Horror of Horrors, yes. A peaceful Sunday morning, engaged in the honest task of typing this out and I feel sick all over again.

‘A day of fun and games and challenging ourselves and’….hold on a second, at all of the places I had worked in London, fun and games took place in the City’s numerous pubs, restaurants, and nightclubs. Any of this sort of primary school nonsense wouldn’t have made it past the pick-it-up-and-run-with-it and go-take-a-running-jump stages.

‘Let me know by email if you are unable to attend.’

Hi, I am unable to attend.

That was that, then. Except it wasn’t.

The afternoon before the games, I had a ‘phone call. No, I didn’t have holiday booked, or a hospital appointment (although someone else might soon need one). In that case I really had to attend. Trevor insists upon it, she said. I said, “Look, I’m really not interested,” hung up, went home, and took the next day off as unpaid/making a stand/skiving off sort of holiday.

I can’t deny a little trepidation when I bowled into the office the day after the games, but, taking my cue from The Man Who Would Be King and the mantra of Connery and Caine, I ‘brassed it out’, and nothing much happened. Well, nothing happened at all apart from the whispered enquiries of colleagues, “What did they do?” Nothing. “What did Trevor say?” Nothing. I liked to think I had made a difference.

A few months later, the email sneaks in, ‘Save the Date!’

The ‘with no exceptions’ email. We’d have to see about that.

In the days before company holiday booking systems were computerised, it was common practice to write one’s requested dates on one’s annual holiday sheet and one’s manager would then sign against these dates, signalling his or her approval. Luckily, I already had approval for time off on the 4th and 5th. Unfortunately this weaselly event was to take place on the 6th. But no matter.

It was but the work of a moment, or actually the work of 5 minutes while everyone was at lunch, to enter the office, remove my holiday sheet, Tippex out the 5, change it to a 6, and the total days off from 2 to 3. Photocopy the sheet, insert the photocopy in the file and light a cigar with the original.

Hi, I am unable to attend as I’m on holiday.

That story has not previously been widely shared.

*

There was a change of management, and the game-playing activities were seemingly consigned to a more appropriate place. An industrial skip with attached incinerator. Seemingly.

‘Save The Date!’

A rounders tournament. Rounders? After work!? I pointed out that the last time I played rounders The Beatles were still together, and politely declined. I continued to politely decline all offers of rounders (and they were frequent), until the day the latest ‘Save The Date!’ email arrived with lists of rounders teams and my name was absent. I queried this with a colleague.

“I think they’ve given up on you.”

“Well, that’s fine. But I'd at least like to be offered the option of turning it down.”

*

‘Save The Date!’

A celebration of our 30 years in business, a buffet lunch and free bar (all OK so far), a company update presentation (an ideal opportunity for a snooze), a group photograph (well, painless enough), and an afternoon of fun and games (WHOAAHH, there! And you were doing so well.)

Pleading an urgent previous engagement, I stopped off at my local in Bath’s centre for a sharpener before wandering up to the venue. Casting a critical eye over the buffet and observing that less spent on this games quackery and more on the honest sausage roll might have been the way ahead, I availed myself of the free bar for a bit and awaited developments.

Apart from a slight worry during the presentation that my cynical commentary was being picked up by the bloke close by in the aisle who was videoing our glorious leader’s current dissembling tissue of falsehoods and whitewash, things went off well enough, and we were soon gathered for the group photographs.

“Now, once the photos have been taken, I’m going to hand you over to the people running this afternoon’s games…”

Hand me over, buster? Now, I don’t go very much on being handed over. Not since Berlin. If there was ever any lingering doubt about me retrieving from the bin the colour-coded (signifying the team) name badge I’d been handed on entry and joining in with the japery, well it lingered no longer. I followed 2 of my colleagues out of the main entrance, and while they stopped for a smoke, I switched on the afterburner and 5 minutes later was resting my foot against the brass rail and ordering a well-earned pint of Mr Fuller’s most excellent foaming ale, and never felt more alive.

I heard later that the losing teams had to perform the Gangnam Style dance. Indeed, I saw a few seconds of the video.

*

I’m self-employed now, and looking back I can see that these ‘Save The Date!’ emails are actually something to remember with no little fondness. Because I learned more from engaging myself in battles to avoid being engaged in the games, than I would ever have done from the playing the games themselves.

#Teambuilding #AgathaChristie #Gangnamstyle #Lowhangingfruit #blueskythinking

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