My management team was bickering. Two managers in particular: Leo and Vincent. Both of their projects were fine. Both of their teams were producing, but in any meeting where they were both representing their teams, they just started pushing each other’s buttons. Every meeting on some trivial topic:
Leo: “Vincent, are you on track to ship the tool on Wednesday?”
Vincent: “We’re on schedule.”
Leo: “For Wednesday?”
Vincent: “We’ll hit our schedule.”
Endless passive aggressive verbal warfare. Two type A personalities who absolutely hated to be told what to do. My 1:1s with each of them were productive meetings and when I brought up the last Leo’n’Vincent battle of the wills, they immediately started pointing at their counterpart: “I really don’t know what his problem is.”
I do. They didn’t trust each other.
On the Topic of Trust
There’s a question out there regarding how close you want to get with you co-workers in your job. There’s a camp out there that employs a policy of “professional distance”. This camp believes it is appropriate to keep those they work with at arm’s length.
The managerial reason here is more concrete than the individual reasoning. Managers are representatives or officers of the company and, as such, may be asked to do randomly enforce the will of the business. Who gets laid off? Why doesn’t this person get a raise? How much more does this person get? Profession distance or not, these responsibilities will always give managers an air of otherness.
Here’s my question: do you or do you not want be the person someone trusts when they need help? Manager or not, do you see the act of someone trusting you as fitting with who you are?
Yes, there’s a line that needs to be drawn between you and your co-workers, but artificially distancing yourself from the people you spend all day every day with seems like a good way to put artificial barriers between yourself the people you need to get your job done.
Is that who you are or who you want to work for?
The topic of trust is where I draw a line in both my personal and management philosophy. My belief is that a team built on trust and respect is vastly more productive and efficient than the one where managers are distant supervisors and co-workers are 9-to-5 people you occasionally see in meetings. You’re not striving to be everyone’s pal; that’s not the goal. The goal is a set of relationships where there is a mutual belief in each other’s the reliability, truth, ability, and strengths.
And it’s something you can build with a card game.
It’s pronounced how you think. Rhymes with crab. It’s an acronym for a game which, with practice, will knit your team together in unexpected ways. It’s Back Alley Bridge. Here are the rules, but before I explain why this game is a great team building exercise, you need to understand a few of the rules.
BAB isn’t bridge. The game does have a few important similarities. First, it’s a game for four players, involving two teams — the folks facing each other are on the same team and share their score. Second, it’s a trick-based game where the goal is for each team to get as many tricks as possible. A trick is won when each player turns up a card and the highest wins, unless someone plays a trump suit, which, in the case of BAB, is always spades.
Bidding. Also like bridge, BAB has bidding, meaning each team bids how many tricks they think they’re going to get after the cards have been dealt. Scoring is optimized to reward teams who get the number of tricks they bid and heavily punishes those who don’t get their bid. Bidding is a blind team effort — you have no idea what your teammate has in their hand other than what you can infer from their bid.
Decreasing hand count. Unlike bridge, the number of cards each player gets decreases with each hand. Each player gets 13 cards in the first hand, 12 in the second, and so on. Play continues down to a single card and then heads back up to 13. A work-friendly modification I’ve made is to only play every other hand (13-11-9, etc.) This number of hands fits nicely into a lunch hour.
Hail Mary. There are two special bids: Board and Boston. A bid of Board indicates the team is going to take every single bid. A board of Boston indicates the team intends to take the first six. Achieving a Board or Boston can be an impressive feat and is rewarded handsomely from a scoring perspective. Failure results in a scoring beat-down. Both of these special bids allow for wild variances in the score, which can be handy for teams who are falling behind.
Scoring, game play, and other information are in the complete rules. Now, let me explain why I picked this game as a recurring weekly lunch meeting.
In BAB, you talk shit. I’ve landed BAB in three different teams now and in each case, the amount of trash talking that showed up once players became comfortable with the game was impressive. This is a function of my personality, but it’s also a byproduct of any healthy competition amongst bright people. It’s also a sign of a healthy team. I’ll explain.
Trash talking is improvisational critical thinking — it’s the art of building comedy in the moment with only the immediate materials provided. As I’m looking for candidates for my next BAB game, I’m looking for two things: who will be able to talk trash and who needs to receive it?