Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Deeply Ingrained Patterns Of Industrial Behavior

Everyone here knows I'm fascinated with certain scholarly pursuits, among them the lifestyle sciences, human environmental science, and group dynamics. I was charting out some of this over a year ago as a lifestyle coach. That's a great thing to call yourself. It sounds great, and it's a completely unregulated field.

You might remember my post a little over a year ago sketching out the "Three Rs of Intentional Group Dynamics": 1) aRrange, 2) Reconnoiter, and, 3) Ruminate. Since then, I've had the interesting experience of seeing both my name and the "Three Rs" in a couple of textbooks (alas, for undergrads). It's interesting, but they don't pay you when you're quoted in textbooks. So that's what I learned from textbooks in the last year!

The "Three Rs," as stated above, are meant for the intentional study or guiding of group dynamics. Obviously, "aRrange" is all about intentionality, the careful arranging in advance of spatial conditions depending on your purpose. You want chairs in the right place, knives put away, etc. But reconnoitering and ruminating are more general steps valuable for any group dynamics experience, being more easily done on the fly than aRranging. But you can aRrange somewhat on the fly, depending, again, on your purpose, and the exigencies of the situation.

I don't want to give away too many trade secrets, but I'm actually pretty good at aRranging on the fly. Let's say you walk into a room of people. The group dynamic's already in motion. But anything you do, like a pebble in a pond, is going to have a ripple effect. You can still do very subtle things to aRrange. Everyone's chair might be angled to the left, angle yours to the right. Everyone might be very quiet, you yawn loudly. There's a thousand ways to stir the pot and subtly aRrange things. The element of surprise is your friend, with the goal of having a lovely time of reconnoitering, then later ruminating.

I love getting together with my fellow residential industrialists in small groups or individually. Doing so over the last few months has been a real experience, showing me some of the deeply ingrained patterns of human behavior in an industrial setting. I thought it'd be fun to mention just a few of the common types and how they relate. You can see if these match up with your experience.

THE EXECUTIVE FOREMAN -- The executive foreman is the guy who never works on the lines or in the plant. He's the foreman of foremen. He doesn't have much to say in the hall, but you can tell he loves the attention of everyone looking at him as he passes. But he's so used to it, it barely registers on his features. The peons aren't exactly afraid of him. They're more afraid of their own foreman getting in trouble with the exec, then taking it out on them. The executive foreman is known for keeping his seething temper under wraps except for when he has a foreman in his office and the door's closed. I love reconnoitering and ruminating them. They always think you're observing someone else. It never occurs to them that they're under surveillance. But I've visited with them, pulling the curtains to get it dim and pull my chair in close to theirs (aRranging), and you ought to see the dynamics! Like big blubbering babies or sinners with a priest. Much sadder than you'd think. Then I ruminate about them with the foremen after hours over drinks. For them, it's non-stop entertainment and laughs.

THE FOREMAN -- There's few people in the factory as personally insecure as the foreman, so it's a great release for them to laugh about the execs over drinks. But my own opinion is they drink way too much. Yet the average guy thinks a foreman has it made. But they're insecure because they've been picked off the line, being promoted, and now they're directly responsible for everyone else's performance. They're at the mercy of the weakest link. So their insecurity's always showing itself, like if people have to go to the bathroom and they have to fill in. Because what if two people have to go to the bathroom? They can't stop the line. So they might be running back and forth, and with desperation comes carelessness. This is where I've seen foremen lose a finger. Group dynamics with a bunch of foremen is great fun, after hours, because they're always drunk. And they'll tell you anything you want to know.

THE LUNCH ROOM LADY -- No one has a better job than the lunch room lady. Her personality's always one for kidding around. She's heard it all and is hardened. She usually has a deep, tough voice. She laughs with gusto. She'll jokingly overcharge you at the cash register, saying a sandwich and coffee are $65.00 or even $1,000! She has cute nicknames for most of the guys, Easy Street, Easy Money, and one I heard for a guy named Les, Worth-less. She's kind of a go-between for people throughout the factory, since the breaks are staggered, so she's always relaying messages. But you can have a bad lunch lady, one who casually drops gossip about who your girlfriend was talking to at the last break, etc., and that's where you get some real factory fights ... I got a couple of these hotheads together in the parking lot one night, thinking I'd get their "feelings" in a group therapy-kind of session. But I ended up refereeing the bloodiest fight I've ever seen. It was very interesting.

THE PEONS -- The peon is a broad type, of course. Ranging from the old faithfuls to the young guys who can't make it a week. The happiest peon is the guy who gets his job and stays at it for years. Everyone knows he's weighing down that position and doing well. He doesn't want to be foreman or executive foreman. He's got a wife at home, he's not out drinking his paycheck.

The mid-happiest peon is the one who's good at what he does but is always looking at his options, maybe wanting to bid on something easier. He's got an in with the foreman -- he's heard some confessions at the bar and knows the value of good information. And in addition, because he's good at his work, and can hold his pee till scheduled breaks, he'll move up in the company.

The saddest peon -- this one is a toss-up. You've got the ones who aren't good at what they do, who need help, who are sickly or need to use the bathroom too much. They're the guys who get a reputation for inefficiency or an inability to improve. The other saddest peon would have to be those young guys who don't want to be there at all. You can't tell them a thing. They don't know the value of a job, etc. They talk back because they don't care. They're jealous about their girlfriends. And, of course, they always have tattoos.

Group dynamics with the old faithfuls is boring, since they're sober and strictly faithful to their spouse. The mid-happy ones do some drinking, and, just like trying to move up on the job, they're also sowing their wild oats after hours. So there's some good scuttlebutt. The saddest ones are so easy it's ridiculous. For the inefficient ones they'll blubber on your shoulder. And the others don't care. But be careful, they'll pull a switchblade on you if you pry too deeply. Stay up to date on your tetanus shots.

The whole factory is a one big group dynamics laboratory. And I love it! It's more or less already aRranged for you, just waiting for you to step in, to Reconnoiter, then Ruminate to your heart's content!

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