In a new column, Tony French, the training 'guru’ whose motto is "have flipchart, will Travelodge" , tells the story of an action-packed and often dangerous training career which takes him from Poole to Peterborough, and London to Littlehampton. Known by many simply as ‘the trainer without portfolio’, he arrives mysteriously, and exits (usually at the end of the day) even more so, having quietly done his good works.
The course: Creating winners - bridge over the River Hor… my first mission as a team-building guru.
The location: Horfield Manor in rural Oxfordshire - a half-timbered 24-acre relic of days gone by. Now a ‘LIE’ (Leadership Institution of Excellence) and conference centre. The River Hor separates it from the UK headquarters of Eggsellence inc. - a volume organic egg hatchery.
The brief: I’m the AC (Agent of Change) for a team-building event for Teleperfect - a global telecoms company. The brief from the chief executive is simple: “Tony, use your magic to make our call-centre teams winners. There’s more if you do a good job, son.” I’ve been hired for one reason: to push the envelope, change the paradigm, and create a winning culture. The aim is to raise the firm’s OCFCSS (optimal call-frequency customer saturation statistics) from 84% to 92% through better team-working. This is fighting talk - the stuff of global domination, promotions, bonuses, new BMW’s, and my reputation.
Outline of the day: “This is an experiential event. We’re going to cross the River Hor with just railway sleepers, rope and team-spirit. This will give us insights into how teams work, and WIN - ok?” Rousing approval from Teleperfect - I’m home, and so far, dry.
As I speak, the venue organiser slips me a note: “The rope & timber have gone missing - can you improvise?” Thinking on my feet, I deploy the old ‘flipchart / syndicate’ routine. “Go, plan your Team Strategy.” They rise to the challenge.
After 10 minutes, the syndicates have designed an elaborate Brunel-scale cantilever bridge of epic proportions using non-existent timber & rope. They’re taking Winning seriously. But despite my SAS trainer-training, I’m stuck. No wood, no rope. My career could be in tatters - and worse, no fee.
As I grapple with this dilemma, enter Joyce, the catering manager at Horfield. “Mr French, did you order 24,000 free-range eggs for your team-building day?” As an Eggsellence lorry pulls up outside, I have a lightbulb moment. I exploit this chaos. “Change of plan,” I announce authoritatively, “Let’s build the bridge with eggs - and save the planet too!” A surreal, culinary team-creation follows, of which Gordon F. Ramsay would be proud - Joyce and the teams proceed to boil eggs on a scale unknown in the history of mass catering.
By lunchtime, 23,987 hard-boiled eggs (13 are casualties in the boiling frenzy) are delicately stacked-up in four steaming parapets towering over the river Hor. Visible for 20 miles, the egg-centric construction stops the traffic on the M40 close by. The national media arrive, and I can see my name in Trainingzone.
With 2,500 metres of clingfilm connecting the towers, the first ‘assault’ begins. Team ‘A’, have built a model of engineering perfection, and dress in penguin suits to traverse the river in a cartoon-style gesture of Winning dominance, accompanied by the Keystone Cops theme. But, the eggy tribute to Brunel collapses under the weight of 17 giggling penguins who are eventually plucked out of the river by the Fire & Rescue service in a soggy omelette of matted feathers like seagulls from an oil slick.
Team B, in my opinion, have the right idea. They abandon the assault, and build a ‘virtual’ model of the bridge with Powerpoint whilst tucking-into the boiled eggs.
By 4 pm Team B are triumphant if a touch constipated, and the mission is saved. The day ends with an all-in egg hurling tournament which brings Horfield (and a wedding party) to an hysterical climax, for which the Oxfordshire Riot Squad are called out.
Feedback from the now gently soufleed call centre teams is unequivocal - ‘a unique experience’. I make my excuses to all at Horfield for the unscheduled re-planning of the landscape in the cause of Winning, before slipping quietly away into the night.
What this will do for Teleperfect’s efficiency margins? Time will tell, but I know that I’ve left my mark - not only on my Winners, but also a wider public, and 23,987 organic eggs which might have seen a worse fate in ASDA on Saturday.
Mission complete, despite the odds… or rather, oeufs?
Tony French is the fictional creation of Mark Benjamin, training consultant, writer and humorist who explores the lighter side of the world of training, people and change. Contact information: e.mail: [email protected] telephone: + 44 (0)7850 711803