Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The hidden costs of being a "fun company"

I was listening to the radio while stuck on the 405 today and I found myself experiencing some corporate Déjà vu courtesy of the good people at Marketplace.
There is perhaps no more important decision a company can make than the name of its conference rooms.

All right, perhaps we jest, but some companies are spending a lot of time choosing the perfect name of their conference rooms, names that reflect their corporate culture, says Rupal Parekh with Advertising Age.

“If you look online, you’ll find all of these threads that are basically people that seem like they are in a state of panic, begging for help with naming their conference rooms,” Parekh said.

Some well known companies don’t seem to have much trouble naming their meeting spaces. Facebook, “knowing that they have a culture that is all about learning from their mistakes,” has named theirs after massive mess-ups in history. Case in point: one is named ‘subprime-mortgage.’

Other companies ponder choosing themes like characters played by Matt Damon (proposed on a Reddit thread) or members of the Wu-Tang Clan (proposed on a Yelp thread).

Others go for the inside joke by naming the rooms after employees who have worked at the company the longest (The Richards Group in Dallas) or a mashup of foods and band names (hence, Slayer Cake over at Etsy).
I've worked for companies that spent a non-trivial amount of time coming up with themes for their conference room names. They also had "fun" events where we learned about synergy and did cute team-building event like this (without, unfortunately, the alcohol):
So, this winter, as Blizzard Nemo was bearing down on New York City, Griffi n bunkered his top executives at the downtown Ritz Carlton for the cable news version of a military training exercise. A Navy SEAL spoke to them about how to manage fear during combat. They toured the September 11 museum, where they discussed the pressures of public scrutiny with the museum’s president. And, later, they participated in drills designed to sharpen their competitive instincts, including one where teams of two each created a specialty cocktail they felt “embodied MSNBC.”
Unless you've been in one of these companies, you probably wouldn't believe how much time, energy and money some places waste in an attempt to convince people that they're having fun.

A few years ago I was in a room filled with fairly well paid statisticians, all of whom had pressing deadlines and we spent an hour writing a mission statement in the form of a parody of the opening of Star Trek ("To explore new data sources..."). There will probably come a time when I see how precious every hour of a life is and when that time comes, I'm going to be really pissed about wasting one of those hours in that meeting.

There are, of course, companies that are genuinely fun and that's a good thing, but it has to be organic. Otherwise, you just spend a lot of money not fooling anyone.

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