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Somebody, somewhere has woken up to the fact that developer morale is low. It's gone beyond rock-bottom and it's still sinking. I get hauled in to meet HR and I'm asked what we do about it. My first suggestion of cash bonuses, (used unmarked notes only), is rejected. My second option of salary increases is rejected. My third suggestion of spending a day team-building in the pub is rejected (we can't afford to be banned from any more pubs, clubs, restaurants or town centres). So what do they come up with? A day with a motivational speaker. Morale plummets when I announce this to the team.
So here we are, listening to Mr Farrell O'Conner. Tanned skin, slicked hair, well-dressed, celluloid smile and enough cosmetics to create his own personal hole in the ozone layer. He speaks in an jaunty, upbeat, mid-Atlantic way that contrasts with the mumbling incoherence of his audience. Try as he might though, he's not getting any positive vibes back from us.
'Come on,' he enthuses, 'you have to get the message that every situation has it's positives. The key to the feel-good, do-good mindset is to find that silver-lining and make it light up the day. Come on! This is what separates winners from losers...'
He looks out over the sea of losers in front of him and has to struggle hard to find that silver lining himself.
He snaps his fingers and rushes over to the white-board. With a flourish he wipes away the scribble he's spent all morning put up. 'Word association,' he announces. 'Let's brain-storm together to see where we can go with this. You,' he points to Colin. 'Yes, you, make a start. Let's word associate on the theme of making the best of a bad situation. Give me some words.'
Colin looks blank.
'Come on! A word or phrase that we can build on.'
Colin starts to get red.
Farrell's having none of this. 'Come on,' he urges, flashing blindingly white teeth, 'give me some words.'
'Incontinence pads,' Colin blurts out.
That silver lining must be sure hard to find sometimes. Mr Positive looks like he's about to jump across the room and strangle Colin.
'Forget that. Let's do some role play.'
For a second I connect word association and role-play. The image of Farrell O'Conner in a big nappy fills me with horror.
'Imagine that we're stuck in traffic,' Farrell announces, recovering his composure. 'Imagine that we're late for an important meeting. This is grid-lock, people, pure grid-lock. Let's work together to see how we can find the positives in this.'
I look around me and start to feel sorry for him. It must be hard.
'You,' he points a bronzed finger at Kevin. 'What do you do?'
'I work here,' Kevin responds innocently.
'What? No! I mean imagine you're stuck in traffic on the way to an important meeting. What do you do?'
'I ride a bike. I'd get up on the pavement and ride round the traffic.'
'Imagine the traffic's really screwed up though,' Farrell tells him.
'But I ride a push-bike, traffic's never that bad...'
'But imagine that it is.'
'But it'd have to be packed so tight that I could...'
'No!' Farrell booms. 'Forget the bike. You're in a car. Stuck in traffic. What do you do?'
'Wonder how I got there?' Kevin explains. 'I can't drive.'
Farrell is now an unhealthy shade of purple. It all looks grim. Our motivational speaker is losing motivation after half a morning with my team. I feel sort of proud.
Alison puts her hand up. 'I have a question,' she says.
Farrell looks at her as though he's finally found the silver lining to light up his day. 'Sure thing,' he says, beaming her a smile that's almost blinding.
'I've just looked at Friends Reunited,' she says, holding up her PDA, 'and it says that your real name is Cyril. And that you come from Slough.'
Farrell looks like a Cyril, it's true, I can see it now. He's speechless while the rest of the team giggle.
Alison, ray of sunshine that she is, hasn't finished. 'Is it true your nickname at school was Tiffany because you liked wearing girls knickers under your uniform?'
'That's a lie!!' Farrell/Cyril blurts out. All trace of the mid-Atlantic accent has gone.
'My uncle liked wearing girls knickers,' Philip tells us. 'He stopped after the court case, though.'
'I did not wear girls knickers!' Farrell/Cyril screams.
'About this traffic,' Kevin pipes in, 'can I pretend to be in a taxi?'
'You bastard...You bloody bastards...'
Farrell/Cyril starts to sob on stage.
Rice looks at Alison. 'Now look what you've done,' he says.
She looks sorry. 'It's okay, Cyril,' she says soothingly. 'I wear girls knickers too.'
The sobs get so loud that eventually somebody calls HR.
'The bastards...' he mumbles on his way out, 'I've never met such a bunch of negative, no good...'
The HR person looks at us accusingly.
'Do we get a refund on Cyril's fee?' I ask. 'It's just that we can still get a few hours of team-building down at the pub. We're not banned at the Old Dog and Penis,' I add helpfully.