Monday, September 21, 2009

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men . . .

We all know what Robert Burns - and even John Steinbeck - thought happened to the best laid plans. Well, it's not just the plans of mice and men that "gang aft a-gley". How many times have you been involved in a group or team project that starts out organized and controlled and ends up taking on a life of its own? When I work with corporate clients, there are always complaints about the Group Gift and, to a lesser extent, the Group Card. (You were probably expecting me to talk about the 'work' of the group, but it's the little things like gifts and cards that cause dissent and unrest . . .)

Nothing raises the hackles of people faster than the person who doesn't contribute money for the gift, but signs the card. We've all been there - haven't we? Whether the group consists of co-workers, neighbors, friends, parents - it doesn't matter, the dynamics are always the same - one beleaguered person ends up buying the gift/card, most people pay their share right away, one or two have to be reminded before they pay, and the non-payer's name mysteriously ends up on the card anyway. And there are variations on this theme - hogging the card with your giant signature or long message (as seen above in The Argyle Sweater*), disparities in the amounts contributed (maybe I can only afford $5, but those who paid $20 are a bit miffed at me), and so on.

So, what's a group to do? In the limited space of this blog, I can suggest one basic strategy: anticipate the problem. Begin Project Group Gift with a plan - two cards, one for those who participate in the gift and one for those who just want to voice their well wishes (this actually helps the recipient who may only send thank-yous to the gift givers). Also, discuss the gift the group wants to buy and use that as a guide for contributions - each person contributes the same amount. For Project Group Card - have everyone else sign before the 'John Hancock' of the group. In other words, you can't do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results (yes, I know Einstein said it first!) - if you want the focus to remain on the recipient, eliminate the problems up front. The flip side of this is to have realistic expectations - the new employee who has not met the expectant mother should not be pressured into contributing to a gift or shower.

For those of you lucky enough to live/work/play with generous-minded, easy-going people this may seem like a silly discussion, but I can't count the times I've been asked about this problem. And, in desperation, some people have wanted the 'etiquette okay' to address these issues with some fairly rude solutions (like noting the percentage of contributions on the card - no, not making that up!). There are no set answers for these sticky situations - just remember the bigger goal is to have a great relationship with others in the group going forward. Just be considerate and try to overlook the daily annoyances . . . I'd love to hear your tales or woe - or triumph - in similar situations.

* Many, many thanks to Scott Hilburn for allowing me to share his very funny comic with you. If your local paper doesn't carry The Argyle Sweater, check out the archives on his website. Once you see how clever and pithy these cartoons are, you'll want your local paper to carry them. And, for readers in the Chicago area, if you're missing your regular dose of TAS in the Tribune, join the campaign to reinstate it by e-mailing Geoff Brown, Features Editor at .

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