Is it still teambuilding when they hate you?


I posted here before about my time working in a call centre for the UK division of geek squad. The building we were in was owned by the parent company, and most “departments” were actually different businesses owned by the parent company. This meant that different brands were often on the same floor or in some cases in the same room.

So for a little while, (I think less then 2 years) the Best Buy call centre was in the room next to ours. They provided logistics support for the stores and gave customers delivery updates etc. It was a pretty small team because only 11 stores ever opened before best buy gave up on its UK expansion. It failed pretty miserably.

But at the start, best buy were enthusiastic about the venture, and this extended to the few American executives that were sent to the UK to help set things up and get things working in a way that fit the “Best Buy spirit”. These people were cheery, enthusiastic and hated by basically everyone who worked there. They weren’t bad people really, but their style of energetic motivation clashed pretty heavily with the working style of a British call centre. Where the standard attitude was essentially “I’m here because it pays marginally better then retail. I know that, you know that. Let’s just get through this shift with as little fuss as possible”.

But no. They had to pretend that being here was fun. And as part of that, they put a ritual in place for the start of the work day for best buy workers (that geek squad didn’t have to participate in thankfully). To get “hyped up to provide great customer service”, their words, not mine. They would start the day with a song. This song was D.I.S.C.O. but with the lyrics changed to be B.E.S.T. Buy. In a toe curling display of corporate team building, the team was expected to stand at their desks, and sing this song, complete with lyrics such as “We are B, brilliant attitudes, we are E, excellent service, we are S, super knowledgable” etc etc. To their credit, the team did this on the first day with a level of enthusiasm that could be described as “passable”. But when they came in for work the next day, were asked to stand up and the music started, I know some looks were exchanged like “wait, that wasn’t a one off?”.

For the next two weeks this went on, and the singing slowly changed. No longer was this a mildly embarrassed sing along. By the end of week two, this was a slow funeral dirge to a disco instrumental. While a pair of inanely grinning American businessmen in blue suits stared at them, Dad dancing and spouting encouraging slogans. Like a corporate sponsored Joker.

It eventually ended when one brave soul said no. I believe the explanation was “I’m not doing this, you can’t make me do it. And if you try and go the disciplinary route, you will end up explaining to an employment tribunal that you fired me from my call centre job because I wouldn’t sing and dance to disco music”. It then became voluntary and shockingly enough, noone ever volunteered.

Best buy eventually closed all of its UK stores, lasting less then 2 years. One of the common explanations why it failed was that they tried to force strategies that had worked for them in the US, rather than adapting to the British marketplace. Having seen that depressing display every morning for 2 weeks, I can believe it.


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