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Sep 3, 2018

Corporate bonding – I’d rather have a thermos of tea

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

What this shop needs,” said my assistant Norman. “Is some corporate bonding. Do you realise we haven’t spoken a word to each other since the tea-break. You haven’t even asked me about what happened at the cranial osteopaths.”

When I said I thought corporate bonding sounded like a new sort of superglue, Norman said that he could call it social motivation if I preferred, or even togetherness therapy, but it all boiled down to being pleasant to each other in the name of business efficiency.

And in his humble opinion, business efficiency at Elite Sports Enterprises was pretty thin on the ground at present.

Apparently there’s something called the Work Force Commitment Index which shows just how well workers get on with the boss and how much the boss appreciates his staff, and Norman was obviously very keen to tell me about it.

“There was a sample questionnaire in the Sunday Times business section,” he said. “My score didn’t even reach as high as the ‘Have you thought about getting another job?’ category.”

I don’t exactly know where he got the idea that you actually go to work to be liked and to spend the days in cosy chat. After all, I worked with my dad for 20 years and we never once discussed our visits to a cranial osteopath, or anything else much, come to that.

In fact, he’d been retired for nearly a fortnight before he got around to telling me, although I was beginning to notice I was by myself in the shop. I was starting to wonder if I should report his absence to someone when he rang to say he was fishing on the Norfolk Broads. The weather was lousy but he had caught a couple of nice chub.

Could I tell my mother that he was still alive, if damp, and would be back at the weekend? But to tell the truth, I’m not sure she had noticed he’d gone, either.

Ok, dad and I may not have done a lot of hugging and high-fives (none at all, to be honest, although he did once straighten my tie when we had been called in by the bank manager), but business was a darned sight better than it is now, I can tell you.

But the bad news is that now the pressure is on us antisocial loners to reform, or to perish like dinosaurs in the Ice Age. There is even a thriving industry devoted to making us pretend to be nice to each other.

It seems that “corporate bonding"activities are booming to the tune of £100 million a year and at the last count, over 2,000 companies now offer courses ranging from wandering round Dartmoor in your underpants to balancing an egg on a pencil, which in some mysterious way, are supposed to make you better at your job.

I once heard somebody remark that “corporate bonding is a lot of people doing what I say and which allows you to blame someone else.” He ended with: “Pride, commitment, teamwork - they’re all words bosses use to get us to work for free,” which was a bit ironic, coming from a man who had been fired that morning for dipping into the petty cash.

In fact, I did once experience a bit of corporate bonding, (which is something I would prefer you kept to yourself), which stemmed from an invitation from a cellular vest company to take part in a “rapport workshop” weekend for their employees at an adventure centre in Surrey.

Fortuitously, I ricked my ankle within minutes of arrival and as a result was drinking a thermos of tea in the car and listening to the Archers omnibus as frightened flabby folk fired paint guns at each other, clung shuddering to cliffs and waded into icy streams. It was one of the most enjoyable weekends I’d had for some time.

On the last evening, nine shellshocked and weary salesmen were locked into a pitch-dark concrete cave and told to create a prehistoric society. Hidden in the cave were candles and fire-making equipment which they had to find in the dark.

After an hour of overhearing them discussing forming a strategy committee, I shouted through the ventilation duct that there was a trapdoor at the back of the cave and a good pub down the road.

After discussing the ethics of the situation, they formed a subcommittee to decide whether to pick up the cigarette lighter I’d pushed under the door. Eventually after a vote of four to three with two abstentions, they decided to remain prehistoric and in the dark. I got my lighter back and went to the pub.

Afterwards, the prehistoric captives gave me a right rollicking for trying to destroy team commitment and not entering into the spirit of comradely co-operation. They said with that sort of attitude I’d never get a job in their company.

To be honest, having to buy your own insurance stamp and listen to Norman droning on about cranial dysfunction, still seems a pretty good alternative to me.

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