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Case Study: Rejecting With Responsibility

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Maya Kini stood by the door thinking. She had fixed a 15-minute chat with HR director T.R.K. Rao, but was now rehearsing her thoughts — should she make a ‘I don’t want’ statement or a ‘I will like that, if..’ statement?

Frankly, Maya preferred the latter as she did not want to risk a misinterpretation. Truth was she simply did not want Suyash Rajan in her team and ever since HR had sent out the proposed reallocation of resources and restructuring of the strategy teams, Maya had been restless. Now she had to be careful as Suyash would get stuck with a ‘difficult resource’ label.

Maya was surprised to see Apurva Jain, Suyash’s current boss, come out of Rao’s room just as she entered his outer office. They shared a plastic ‘hey’ and Maya stood there examining a Picasso oleograph.

Rao came out and greeted her familiarly: “Kashi assa, Maya?”

Sauki, sir. Thank you,” replied Maya, as Rao offered her a seat.

Rao: Tell me, what can I do to help?

Maya: I have seen the new resource allocation table. I would like Suyash Rajan replaced, please.

Rao asked his assistant to bring the sheets and continued talking, “Is this Suyash a dampener? A speed breaker?”

Maya: That would be harsh. I specifically find my productivity dropping and failing while working with him. There are many who find him just the opposite, you know.

Rao: Really!  I need to find those people. Hmm... so tell me what makes you say this?

Maya was stymied. She had not expected this. Now she would have to give him a specific reply. How was she going to explain that every time she sat in a group with Suyash, she had always left feeling extremely agitated?

Because Suyash had a certain style that was depressing; he complained, he whined; he found fault. But he made sure he backed it with business jargon and example....
But how was she to say all this in a professional manner?

Maya was a group head at Morro Consulting Group (MCG), a part of the Morro Group. She had joined MCG the same year as Suyash, except that Suyash had not moved much. They had worked on some restructuring proposals together ,but never on a full assignment. But the proposals had been delayed and derailed by Suyash’s indecisiveness, his nitpicking style. Suyash was working on the structure part, while she was on strategy. But where structure and strategy had to agree, he had proven to be a nightmare.

Maya saw him like she saw TV news, where there never was news; only groups of men and women yelling at each other over each other’s voices; picking on much thrashed topics and thrashing them further.

Explaining to Rao, she said, “There is finally no resolution, no plan, just noise that disturbs the mind.” Suyash was like that.

Rao was thinking too. Apurva had just come to him with his team’s ratings. Suyash was rock bottom. That would mean Rao would have to have one of those chats with Suyash. The only hope he had was that the team building programme they had organised with Snakes & Ladders, an outbound training company, would hold pointers to Suyash...

Monday evening, 7 pm. Khandala

Tripti Vasudev ran an eye over the 12 profile sheets given to her. There were seven men and five women. Chetana is recently married. Anna has worked for three years. Dipti Khanna was from the US. Apurva is their boss. Bashir, Abhir and Vinay are Suyash’s close buddies.... Four of them have passed out of IIMs, five from other b-schools, three were from the IT and systems stream.

Tripti looked at Suyash’s sheet. Suyash is from an IIM. There is a remark from Apurva. Circled in red, it said, “Tell me about this guy. He is important.”
Tripti felt uncomfortable. Training was meant to be fun and enjoyable for everyone; where each one took away an experience, introspected and recalibrated. As a trainer, whenever she had been asked to evaluate a participant in particular, she had declined, saying, “In a two-day training, a person’s true nature cannot be evaluated. Often, the antiseptic, classroom environment brings out an altogether different personality.”


But last week, Apurva had met Shireesh Desai, partner of Snakes & Ladders. Desai allowed Apurva to request specifics on Suyash.

MCG’s B-Team was walking towards her. A bonfire was being set up next to her. This was a warming-up event, where they would all get comfortable. The bigger events would begin the next morning. During the bonfire, the teams had to come up with an impromptu act, mono act, song, dance, anything. Tripti had split the group into two teams and given them about half an hour to come up with a performance.

Now, she caught herself looking at Suyash. He was telling Chetana that he knew a very funny song. Abhir knew it too. Suyash sang it out to the team, and they found it funny. So Suyash said, he would do a solo act, partly supported by Abhir. Tripti watched and made notes.

Why don’t we teach the song to the rest of the team? Each one takes a stanza; some can mime their role, some can act it out. Overall, it could be fun and hilarious if we can mime and act.

(raising an eye brow): How is that possible? How can they learn?

Abhir: Arre, write it out na! It will take all of five minutes to get a hang of what one needs to do. Dipti and I will read and sing. Chetana and Bashir can act it out.

Suyash: Why are we complicating this? Keep things simple. I will sing and you guys can perform as you like.

Apurva: What’s the problem? You teach us. Two rehearsals, we’ll learn.

Dipti: Yes, Suyash! You sang once and I already remember a few lines. And acting is easy.

It is a good idea for the whole team to participate. Let all participate.

Suyash: That is not how I had visualised this act. Besides, it’s not possible to learn so quickly, it is…

Apurva (interrupting and addressing Abhir): Can you teach us instead? Suyash, as always, is in the ‘not-possible’ mode.

Abhir sang and every one quickly wrote down the lyrics. He made them rehearse twice and they got it. Suyash was the lead singer while the rest did a chorus, and the song gained volume and beauty.  Bashir and Chetana brought the roof down with their act.

Then Team C (Chennai) performed, followed by Team D (Delhi). The B (Mumbai) team, Suyash’s team was voted the best.

Apurva shot Suyash a look and said, “One should not try and be performance-oriented all the time.” Suyash laughed and said, “What? You are saying that?”

The team to Abhir: “Your plan was good after all! Now everyone feels he has contributed to the win!”

Bashir thumped Suyash on the back and said, “You do sing well, dost... don’t know whether you compose better or sing better!” Rajan was quiet. He was disturbed by the way his boss Apurva had interfered. Now he was neither happy nor unhappy with the win. Apurva was a pain...

The warming-up session had helped them understand that they needed to work together, that all this was fun, that in the performances, there was no hierarchy, no boss, no subordinate.

Next morning, Tripti laid the stage for the second event. Two activities were up on the white board, of which they had to choose one: rock climbing and dark room. Choosing itself was part of the event and the teams began to see that this too was a part of their team building. Tripti gave them seven minutes to decide which one they would opt for.

Tripti explained each event — in the rock climb, each team had to discuss the strategy on how they would pull each team member up the rock. She also showed them the array of the wherewithal they would need for the rock climbing, adding, “Success in teamwork will be measured by a) the least time taken by a team, and b) strategy employed to reach each member to the top.”

Just as Tripti sat back to give the teams time to make their choices, Ganesh Timkur from Suyash’s team slapped his thigh and said, “Yes, rock climbing it is, guys... I will take care, just follow me!” Ganesh was a professional trekker and had done a fair bit of adventure sports. Bashir was excited and so were Abhir, Chetana and the others. Just then Suyash said he would go around and ask if all were okay with rock climbing as their choice. But Apurva decided to assume leadership...

Boss Apurva (clapping his hands to draw everyone’s attention): Okay guys... we will climb the rock. All 12 of us in the team need to reach the top of this rock. We have to decide how we will help each other. We have all the gear, and...

Suyash (pointedly): We need to first appoint a team leader.

Bashir: Hey Vinay, you be the team leader.

Apurva persisted and said, “Okay, let me handle this...” which got Suyash laughing. He said, “Boss, please. Ha ha ha. We could do with a break...”

The others joined in the laughter and so did Apurva. Suyash called out to Vinay and said, “You have been offered the role, accept or reject?”

Vinay: Let’s go by best fit, yaar. Ganesh has experience... I say let him lead?

Ganesh (warming up): Okay, one of us will go up first, stand on top of the rock, and then the climber is pulled up by him, helped from below by the rest.

Abhir: I cannot climb rocks. I tried once, slipped, and never reached the top!

Suyash (tongue in cheek): more ways than one. (Some laughed. Abhir glared.)

Vinay:  I have an idea...let’s all of us stand on top of the rock, and we all pull up one person.

Suyash: That does not really make sense. Just think! I don’t think we should take up this activity. Let’s go for ‘dark room’.

Apurva: Now that we have opted for this, we will do this. I think the following will work… By rotation two stand on top of the rock and help pull up one member. Then another two.... I have some experience, so does Ganesh...

Shayl: Come on, let’s get going. Sounds good and besides we have to begin first, no?

Suyash: This would be too difficult. We are likely to lose. Besides, it is not even exciting...

Anna (agrees): Let’s go for dark room.

Vinay:  What is this? Of course, we can do this! This is easier than dark room where you can see nothing.

Suyash: Dark room is easier; we do it every year during appraisal...

Apurva glared at them, while others laughed.

Ganesh laughed longer and then he whispered to Suyash, “You are dead… he is watching you.” And Suyash replied, “Depends who you are referring to.” They shared a quiet laughter...

Suyash: Guys, seriously, it is not a good idea, it will take too much time. Moreover, there are chances of injury. Just two team members have rock climbing experience; others are novices. Why court injury when we can opt for dark room?

Apurva: Not if you are careful. Let’s strategise. C’mon guys we can do this.

Everyone moved towards the rock... Two team members went ahead and positioned themselves on top of the rock, while the climber Shayl wore the gear. She reached the top without much difficulty, partly helped by the pullers.

Next it was Suyash and Chetana’s turn to act as the pullers. They reached the top of the rock.

Bashir wore the gear and started climbing. His limbs were rather stiff. Even a small ascent was not easy for him. The usual encouragement came from team members, cheering, urging, encouraging... “higher, higher.” “You can do it.” “Lift your leg a little at a time; hold the rock above you with both hands, push yourself up.”

Suyash (to Chetana): I had said this is not easy. We are losing time.

Tripti heard that and nodded gently at Suyash. Then, “Let us stay positive, we climb better...”

A little while later, Bashir was quite exhausted. It was a tense moment for everyone. “You can do it Bashir, all of us are with you,” yelled Abhir from below. Chetana on top of the rock was trying her best. “Let’s pull harder,” she urged Suyash.
Suyash: I told everyone before that this is not the right exercise for us. This is not going to prove anything. The guy is scared, people have fear of heights...this will end up being a short course in rock climbing and no wins...Dark room would have been better.

Chetana: Doesn’t matter, Suyash. Now you just pull... let’s take more of his weight.

Suyash: I think we should let him try some more.

Apurva from below yelled out, “Pull up. Give him some headway!”

Suyash: But that way he will not learn to make an effort. We should let him try as much as he can.

Bashir: Yaar, pull kar dey, my legs feel like jelly...

Suyash (to Apurva below): Boss, I am not sure we will be learning or teaching the right lesson as a team. If every person is to be pulled up, what does the team learn?

Apurva (yelled back): Every person is not being pulled up. Just do what you are supposed to! (Then turning to another team member, “You also go up there and help pull this guy up.”)

Suyash (to Chetana): “I thought Ganesh was the team leader.”

Vinay climbed the rock from the the other side and reached Suyash. As he neared, Suyash said, “Don’t bother, I can pull. I was only trying to make a point.” And he shifted position, and helped pull up Bashir.

A relieved and exhausted Bashir flopped on the cot on the landing. 

To be continued

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 17-06-2013)

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