From the frying pan into the fire

I cut my first teeth (years and years ago) in organizational development under the banner of a large organization–large enough to sustain its own intimate coral of management development workshop facilitators. After a few years I felt under appreciated, under recognized and under utilized, therefore I quietly–as most do in such cases–started an external job search. Still wishing to stay in my profession, I was lucky enough to quickly find a peach of another opportunity. Now it was just a matter of landing the job!

Eureka! I got the big interview with the V.P. of HR and it went terrifically well. First hurdle passed. The next was to meet the team (my potential fellow workshop designers and facilitators). First, I was required to facilitate a half-hour workshop to showcase my presentation skills and facilitative style. All went well…except for the fact that I thought I observed a whiff of strain between the team members…the kind of which I knew, instinctively, had nothing to do with me. Next, we sashayed into another room where upon this same group–sans the V. P.–sat in a semi-circle, facing me, while each asked for my response to their hypothetical scenarios. A progressive and enlightened idea I thought…not only was I interviewed by the V. P. (the ultimate decision maker), I also had to pass official muster with those who would become my colleagues. Fine by me…let the games begin!

The first few questions were asked and answered with great finesse on both our parts. Then, the trouble set in. The interviewing team members began to snipe and squabble with one another, getting off track and losing the primary focus of the meeting…interviewing me! At first I thought this was a play within a play and that they were merely getting my goad to see how I’d handle this uncomfortable situation. Then I realized I was thinking way too hard and that this was not the case at all…these people really had lost their focus, were arguing with each other and totally forgot or didn’t care–so it seemed–that I was even in the room! One of the members finally realized the inappropriateness of their behaviour and, in fine facilitator form (finally), pulled the whole lot of us back on track. Still, the damage had been done. Too many things had been said and witnessed that couldn’t be retracted. We politely concluded the interview, obligatory smiles and handshakes all around, and I left…as quickly as my size 8’s would carry me!

The balance of the day I was crest-fallen. I really wanted that job! At least I’d thought I did. And it had started off so very well! However, the more that evening progressed, the more I realized that they thought they were interviewing me, but I was really interviewing them. Although it pained me to admit, in my eyes they failed…they didn’t’ get the job…the job of working with me. I was resolved to tell them so the next morning and to withdraw my name from the competition. And so I did.

I shared with the V. P. of HR, point blank and in a lengthy and heart-felt telephone discussion, that I was quite concerned with what appeared to be a fractured team and thought it very poor manners to air “family laundry” in front of a “guest”, as her team had done the day before. She was sincerely mortified and open to hearing my feedback and plied me for more; and so I continued, sharing that I did not wish to jump ship and become a member of such a seemingly dysfunctional team (my mum had always said, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t!”; in this case, that was sound advice).

As I look back on this episode, I see it as an honest and courageous act on my part. Most candidates would have made up some fake story as to why they were withdrawing from the competition, but I really needed this woman to understand that I’d been excited about the possibility of coming to them but, on closer examination felt, “No thank-you and…oh, by the way…did you know that you’re managing a bunch of spoiled brats?” Sometimes management is the last to know.

It turned out–thanks to this V. P.’s candidness–that I had been the successful candidate and she urged me to reconsider…take a couple of days. She also confessed that she’d already known of the strain that existed on her team and that, although a slow process of following HR policy and procedure, the “troublemaker” of the group was soon to get his final comeuppance. I graciously thanked her for her honesty and offer, but declined on the spot. It was too late…too tainted…not a good way to start with a new job.

And so I stayed put for a couple of more years with my original employer (which, as fate would have it, turned out to be my most fulfilling, gratifying and satisfying years with that organization…perhaps because I told my boss the truth of my “almost jumped-ship on you” experience and, afterwards, felt immediately more appreciated “at home”).

Here are 7 lessons I’ve gleaned from this workplace experience:

  1. Sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side but it ain’t necessarily so. Maybe counting your blessings about “home” is a good idea.
  2. Never air your “dirty workplace family laundry” in front of “guests”…it’s just not nice.
  3. If you’re thinking of leaving your current position, look twice, jump once.
  4. Remember, you’re interviewing them–to see if they’re worthy of your services–just as much as they’re interviewing you!
  5. If you think something’s not right with a team dynamic…you’re probably right. Pay attention to your intuition and little voice inside if it says, “Run!” or “Stick”.
  6. Honesty is the best policy. That V.P. was sincerely glad I’d shared my truth…and so was my own boss. In a way, it turned out to be a win-win-win.
  7. Timing is everything and it just wasn’t my time to go; so fate didn’t permit it. “All good things come to those that wait”, (another little ditty that my dear late mum used to say…as I honour her memory on this, the day of her passing/May 30, so many years ago).

What lessons do you interpret from this little workplace tale of woe of mine? Please feel free to share.

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