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Tales From Consulting: Drawing Straws

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I got introduced to the concept on TV and movies. Usually funny shows, such as cartoons, comedies, and the like. You’d get sticks or strips of paper, cut one of them obviously shorter and keep them hidden except for the tip, and then the one who draws the shorter one “wins”. Or “loses”. Depends on what’s at stake, and the last time I had to do it was in a game during high school to decide which team went first.

So I was caught off-guard when the manager in a corporation I worked for suggested we do it for work, and among my 3 dear friends.

Four of us started together in the same department, and we all grew close. We were all told, during employee orientation, that:

  • All employees were equal, call the bosses and managers by their 1st name.
  • There's an open door policy. Feel free to come to their office for any issue.
  • Be proactive. Speak up for yourself and what you see. It's your duty.

Of course, immediately after the orientation, I noticed nobody called the bosses and managers by their 1st names, except other bosses and managers. Not even the one who gave the orientation (she called our boss “sir”, and all my coworkers called her “ma’am”). And all the bosses’ office doors were almost always closed. But still, it was only my 2nd job, and my 1st corporate one, so I believed.

The 4 of us grew close during the training and while waiting for our projects. But I almost destroyed our friendship that day.

Our manager called us over and said there was a project in another country. Since we had all been on the bench for quite a while, we all wanted to be on a project. The nice thing was that it was also in another country, so it would be something new and exciting for any of us.

"This is what we all imagined it would be like."

But the boss furrowed his brow and said: "But how do I choose among you? You're all new hires, right? Seems you're all the same." I suddenly remembered my training. Since this was my 2nd job, I theoretically had a bit of an edge since I already had a year of work experience. It wasn’t really much, but it was something. But if I mentioned it, my friends could take it to mean that I felt I was superior to them, and maybe they don’t feel like being my friends anymore, especially if they disagreed with me. On the other hand, we were told during employee orientation that we should be “proactive” and “speak up for yourself”. I was torn. If I didn’t speak up, then our boss would choose another decision method, and I might regret not speaking my mind.

I chose that moment to be proactive in front of the boss and spoke out "well, we could go by work experience...", which was obviously a reference to me. And my 3 other friends stared at me in bemusement and disappointment. My cheeks flushed with stress and shame.

This is the also the day I realized that the employee orientation guidelines might be bu#sh!+.

"This is how I felt like"

The boss thought for a moment. "Nah", he said, "let's just draw straws". And we did (we used strips of paper). Of course, because the universe has a wicked sense of humor, my friend drew the short straw.

But he immediately said he wanted to give me the assignment anyway. Which I, of course, refused and we had a mini-argument about it, him trying to give me his seat and me refusing. Our other 2 friends were also trying to get me to accept the generous gift but I can be a prideful guy. I was also upset at the situation we were put in and what I had said. On the plus side, I was happy that they weren’t angry or resentful with me, and were actually quite supportive.

This was all moot since that afternoon, we found out that that project didn't go through. And I realized I almost destroyed our friendship for literally nothing. We're all still friends to this day, so I guess I ended up winning something more. They still tease me about it to this day.