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Posted on: Tuesday, 22 September 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Relationship Circles.

Relationships and connections that bring people together at work are fairly interesting.

Take a circle; it is time to observe.

Yes dear reader; by a 'circle' what I mean is that group of individuals you see hanging out in the cafeteria; together --- all the time.

Watch them; because 'circles' have the potential of empowering you with the information you always craved for as a manager.

'Circles' can tell you a lot about individuals who constitute them.

Located smack in the center of the 'circle' is the central connector that forms the circle. It could constitute of multiple things:

  1. Human Connectors - What Malcolm Gladwell would 'connectors' in his classic book; The Tipping Point. These; are human beings that bring other human beings together.
  2. Memes And Causes - People in a circle are getting together and talking about their project. With their current project or what-ever-it-is-that-they-are-working-on is going to change the world; make a dent in the universe and show the organization that they have been right all along.
  3. An Asshole - Yes; if you are talking about the world of software development; assholes bring more people together than you can think of. You hate Fred; I hate Fred; so lets hate Fred together. Its so much more fun that way. Of-course Fred; could be a manager or an entire organization. As long as we can get together and collectively hate something together we should be good building a circle around that hatred.

At Multiplitaxion Inc; I had the opportunity of working with a senior manager who actually took pride at being the asshole who connected everyone within the organization. In a direct; open; candid; one on one conversation this gentleman told me he knew how everyone in the organization hated him. He said it in a tone which translated almost like saying he knew how he was actually brining everyone together through a common reason; which was the act of hating him.

Foundation For Long Term Work Relationships. 

While only one of the managers I have worked will till date; was candid or mature enough to admit this; I have worked with a countless number of managers who at some level or the other; knew they were hated by people around them and actually took pride in the fact; or at-least got a very perverted kick out of it.

Talk to most vice-presidents and CEO's around the world and quite a few of them let whiners and assholes stick around in the organization; because at some level of consciousness or other they are noticing first hand how having these whiners and assholes are bringing teams together. Besides; everyone loves a few whiners in the organization.

If you are trying to create an environment which is fun to work in; and produces genuine innovation for years; here is the bad news however --- the whole idea of hatred for assholes acting as the unifying glue that holds your entire organization does not work in the long run.

Why?

Because problems do not tend to exist forever and when your relationships are based on specific problems; with the problems out of your way; you are pretty much stuck in a rather awkward situation.

Another manager; who for the purposes of this post; we shall refer to as Fred; for example; was a universally hated manager at Multiplitaxion Inc. Fred; single handedly formed the central focus point of many circles and the sheer make-fun-of-Fred-task was a project in itself. It was in fact a way of life which brought groups within the organization together @ the Multiplitaxion Inc, cafeteria.

Then one fine morning; when the sky was blue and the birds were chirping; Fred found a better opportunity and left Multiplitaxion Inc.

Just like that;  he wrote a formal it-was-nice-working-with-you-guys email; and disappeared the next week.

You could literally hear the sound of crickets chirping in the cafeteria.

A few younger ones tried continuing the when-Fred-was-here stories even after he was gone. 

It seemed to work for a couple of days.

Then that didn't work either.

This is when; over a period of time; I personally witnessed the ends of multiple 'circles' within the organization. People who were intelligent people; spending hours together; were nowhere to be seen together now.

Walk into its cafeteria and Multiplitaxion Inc no longer seemed like the fun and happening place roaring with laughter it had once been.

Builders who had joined forces to sedate this monkey; found nothing to talk about and went their own way.

All you could hear on any given day in the corridors of Multiplitaxion Inc; was the sound of crickets chirping.

If there was one thing this incident taught me; it was that 'circles' that are brought together by true and genuine fun-loving connectors tend to survive for a relatively longer span of time. Circles that are brought together based on the mutual hatred of a particular asshole or a particular organization; do not tend to survive in the long run at all.

The only circles; however; that stand the test of time are circles which are formed out of mutual desire to create meaning. Circles where the objective is to get together and 'build stuff'.

Next time you notice a circle forming around an asshole; try to penetrate it; and give them a cause; a meaning or a bigger arch enemy. That dear reader; is your only chance at forming long lasting 'circles' of genuine builders and not collective-whining-groups.

I wish you good luck.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.