The Conference Call


The call is scheduled for 2:00 Friday. PM, the office manager sent out a follow-up e-mail about, as though AM were up for discussion. It’s the same joke sent out every time. But we must respect the rituals of the Conference Call. To leap in without the assurance that everyone was not getting together at 2:00 AM would be unthinkable. And it would bring about the ambiguity about whether they meant the 2:00 AM reached by staying up late on Thursday or staying up late on Friday.

The subject is the M’Gregor Project. The M’Gregor Project has been going on for so long and gotten discussed so well that it has achieved organizational Nirvana. There is no task on it, however minor, which can be completed by any known means. The attempt to establish how to complete any part of any task on it results in the task splitting, like a free neutron, into three smaller tasks and administrative neutrinos. And yet these smaller tasks are no more completable. And yet call for as much discussion. It is not that anyone is avoiding work. They put reasonable, responsible efforts into their tasks. It’s just that everyone needs something someone else does before they can finish, and there is nothing that can be finished first.

Thus the need to set a careful agenda. There should be time to review outstanding tasks. This is all of them. There will not be time to review outstanding tasks. The group will get through about ten minutes of this and then ask whether there’s anyone falling behind. Everyone feels themselves falling behind. Even without trying to subdivide tasks two or three new ones have appeared to everyone. Tasks are like feral kittens scratching at the break room door. After consideration most everyone accepts these newly subdivided tasks. They set them up in the least-used corner of their workspace with a small bowl of kibble and bedding made of shredded printer instructions. There is special time given to the person who’s found five new tasks. Two of them are given away to people who think they could whip that out Monday. Monday’s when the printer is set to explode, but that isn’t on the agenda and so is not considered.

There is no one at the company who remembers the M’Gregor Project’s start. There is no one at the company who will be there when it ends. There is no one at the company who can explain why it’s not MacGregor. There is no one at the company who can convince those separatists that it should not have been McGregor. All agree there is some benefit to the company if the M’Gregor Project should be completed. Something, surely. But to just make some clear progress before the end of the quarter would be good too.

Nothing is completed. Nothing could be completed. There is something. There is the possibility of reorganizing tasks into new categories. This is more than trading tasks that haven’t got finished. This would be the chance for everyone to think carefully about what they’re good at. To think of what they feel engaged in doing. To think of which of their assigned tasks are too boring to even let fail. A chance to own up to it, to show what one accepts one will never do, and give them up to people who still think themselves ready. To set about such a reorganization is work. A large number of people have to devote themselves to rationalizing their projects. This is a major task. A great many people would like to have done it.

The Conference Call is a chance to share anxious anticipation of explaining why your task is not finished, or fear of getting a new task. In this way do the participants reassure one another that they are part of the group. That they are some of the many, many people who have been involved in the M’Gregor Project. It is the socially acceptable substitute for our instinctive desire to groom one another’s fur for lice and tics. And this, of course, is why the thing is done.

We’re ready for you to join on line two.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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