"Please shoot me now! I can't do it anymore! Why does everything have to be so slow and painful? There has got to be a better way!" Does this sound familiar? Although it may have been a while since you heard or muttered any of these phrases at work, I would be surprised if you have not heard some similar sense of frustration at your job.
Let's take a look at the greatest "Time Sucks" in corporate America ...
Time Sucks Don't Care About You
The pained exclamations above typically represents the outcome of two of the biggest time sucks in corporate America (which are different from the two hardest tasks or two biggest mistakes in corporate America). These two scenarios come up so often in corporate settings that a majority of readers have probably personally experienced one or both of them in the past month.
Time sucks are like black holes. They have an event horizon that once crossed, makes your participation inevitable. While this may seem like a resignation to doom and gloom, I hope to give an option for how to best deal with these inevitable situations. They have many ways of entering the room, but each of these different entrances brings everyone who enters to one of two destinations: The Goat Rodeo and The Witch Hunt. The frequency and impact of the two time sucks vary depending upon the enterprise, so I'll refer to them as "Time Suck #1" and "Time Suck A" to avoid picking which one is worse.
Time Suck #1: The Goat Rodeo!
Having to watch the goat rodeo in medium and large enterprises is the biggest time suck in corporate America (except for the other biggest time suck -- having to participate in the witch hunt). Executive management is fond of asking people "Have you ran this by the team in department X?". This question is a direct result of the "culture of inclusion and consensus" that seems to dominate so many corporate civilizations.
You may be unaware of the goat rodeo, but I would argue that you are not unfamiliar with it. How many times have you been invited to meeting after meeting where each and every department has to have their opportunity to tear down a proffered idea? How many times have you had to sit through deep interrogations from the unofficial company certainty cop? The certainty cop holds forth on the captive audience in the room or on the email chain by showing everyone that he can prove that you cannot prove that black swans don't exist.
Trying to bring a halt to the goat rodeo is like being the cowboy trying to a stay on top the bull. Once the bull leaves the stall everyone knows the cowboy will come flying off at some point and it's the job of the audience to enjoy the show even though the cowboy has no real hope of staying on the bull ... This fatalism is a direct result of people not wanting to be attached to an idea that might fail after someone highlighted a concern. If people speak up and try to end the insanity, they could be held responsible for the possible failure of the proposed future endeavor.
The most painful aspect of the goat rodeo is that any attempt to end it only makes it go on longer. When faced with the goat rodeo, every instinct compels you towards one of two reactions; Pound your fist on the table or throw up your hands and walk out of the room. Successfully pivoting goat rodeos into forward progress tends to be a recursive loop because the only way out of the rodeo is for everyone to get tired of it and the act of attempting to pivot the conversation more often than not feeds energy to the goat riders.
Time Suck A: It's Witch-Hunting Season!
The witch hunts that go on in medium and large enterprises are the biggest time sucks in corporate America (except for the other, aforementioned, biggest time sucks).
It's the season following the time when the leaves have turned color, and the trees are almost bare. It's the season just before Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Which season is it? It's "witch-hunting" season of course! It's that fun time of year when corporate budgets get tight, project schedules get crunched, and everyone is searching for the person or organization to blame for some shortfall or another.
Once again thanks to the secret masters of corporate strategy (the publishers of airline magazines), executives exit their flights and start asking questions like "Why did that other team pay a million dollars for system X when this article highlights a company that implemented one just like it for a hundred thousand?"
Witch hunts (or should I say blame-storming sessions?) are akin to a fun game of "whose house is the dirtiest?". Someone didn't like something another team did or wants to prove that they could have done it better and the scenarios about competence and skullduggery start to gain momentum. "So and so's team is a bunch of monkey's humping a football! Someone's gotta do something about it!" "They're hiding something over there. Let's go find out what it is!"
Just like the goat rodeo, the most painful aspect of the witch hunt is that any attempt to end it only makes it go on longer. When faced with the witch hunt, every instinct compels you towards one of two reactions; Join in the hunt for witches or run away hoping that you are not the next witch they decide to go hunting for.
Successfully pivoting out of the witch hunt into forward progress also tends to be recursive loop because the only way out of the witch hunt is for everyone to get tired of it and the act of attempting to pivot the conversation more often than not strengthens the belief in witches. After all, if the witch isn't any good at deception, then he/she couldn't be a witch!
How Can You Deal With This?
The secret to not letting these frustrating dynamics get you down is this: Realizing that they are actually funny. Think of it like you are watching a keystone cops movie where everyone is running around and bumping into each other. You can either fancy yourself as the angry sergeant and start banging people on the head with a night stick, or you can abstract yourself from the drama and put yourself in the audience.
Once in the audience, what can you possibly do but see the ridiculousness of what's going on? Yes, it's madness. That's why you laugh at it (but not out loud of course)! Think of it as a brief respite from the other work days where nothing exciting happens. These exciting mini-dramas are a test of your understanding of the human condition.
Humans tend to vacillate between a constant search for certainty and a constant search for someone to blame for their lack of certainty. Each of these searches is a never-ending quest because the only certain thing is uncertainty and once found, you need someone to blame for it. Once you see the goat rodeo starting, go get some popcorn and enjoy the show, sooner or later it will turn into a witch hunt and that's the really funny part, assuming you are not the witch they want.
Title image by Diana Carcia (Shutterstock).