Necessary evil or total waste of time?

Saturday April 14 2018

If these meetings counted as work, Atwechi mused, how did such a huge level of indecisiveness get so high up the management tree? ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG

If these meetings counted as work, Atwechi mused, how did such a huge level of indecisiveness get so high up the management tree? ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

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“Too many chiefs,” Donald Atwechi mumbled as he walked into the boardroom for the fourth meeting that morning.

“Too many thieves,” he corrected himself. These meetings, according to Atwechi, mostly robbed him — and the company — of time that would have been spent on doing real work, like looking for new customers – or even visiting the old ones.

Four-and-a-half years into his first five-year contract as the sales, social media and digital marketing manager of Mega Book Publishers Ltd, Atwechi still marvelled at the capacity of his fellow managers (the “A team”) to call and sit through meetings.

Members of this exclusive group came alive in the meetings, competing on who could utter the most jargon, rolling out figures, flipping charts, and laughing at contrived jokes.

At first Atwechi was amused by this showmanship. Then he grew angry, showing up at the meetings agitated and irritable.

The managers never saw a meeting they didn’t want to call. They started the day with meetings, and ended it with more meetings.

They had meetings in the morning, mid-morning meetings, meetings in the afternoon… and in December to close the year, meetings on Saturdays.

They called meetings to discuss orientation of new members of staff, and attended another to review reporting time for low cadre staff.

But what infuriated Atwechi most about the meetings was the power formation; how the managers — all 10 of them — took their seats around the table.

Power play

While Atwechi and two others — Mutie and Kulundu — had no preferences, the rest of the managers would not just sit anywhere. They were deliberate about who sat to which side of them, and, in one extreme case, whom they faced across the table. 

Kim and Cleopa, the most senior managers in the company always sat across each other. Oluoch would sit to the right of Kim. Magoya sat to the left of Cleopa as if to eyeball Oluoch. Bob would plant himself between Yosam and Filipo.

Then there was the power play, or chess for the incompetents, as Atwechi put it. If Kim started the meeting, it followed that Cleopa would be the one to wrap it up. Between the opening and the closing, their right hand men, Oluoch for Kim and Magoya for Cleopa, would steer the rest of the team towards a particular direction.

“The Western region is still trailing even after we hired the extra casuals. Why is that?” Oluoch shot a question at Filipo.

“Did you hire the right people?” Magoya asked.

“Do they know the region well?” Oluoch followed with another question.

“Have they worked in this field before?” Magoya asked further.

For the next hour or so, the discussion would follow a pattern: Oluoch would comment on something, Magoya would try to clarify Oluoch’s point; Magoya would say something, Oluoch would attempt an explanation.

Atwechi and the other managers supplied the answers and updates. It was a dance of time wasters, and would drag on ad nauseam.

Kim and Cleopa presided over these meetings with a grandfatherly presence. They would nod at a point, sneak in a “right” at another and an “ok” at yet another.

“Is this what I signed up for?” Atwechi, lost in thought at the meetings, would ask himself time and again. Why did they call all these meetings? Why did they like these meetings? When did they ever do any work? 

If these meetings counted as work, Atwechi mused, how did such a huge level of indecisiveness get so high up the management tree?

The Invisible Fist

Atwechi felt these meetings robbed him of time he would spend doing, er, whatever brought him to the city in the first place and made him leave his house every morning: Work.

Atwechi walked, thought, talked and acted sales and marketing. Government regulations. Unmet targets. School and bookshop visits. Author tours. Promotion materials. Self-published authors. E-books. Change in strategy. New markets. Casual employees. Per diems.

Atwechi prided himself in his unassailable knowledge of the products, his team and the target market. With these three, he could hold his own against any of the men — for they were all men — in the boardroom.

It was with this thought that he walked into the meeting room this morning, ready to endure another Oluoch-Magoya “feast of indecision” duet.

“Welcome Mr Atwechi, we’ve all been waiting for you,” Oluoch and Magoya spoke as one as Atwechi took his seat.

As usual, Atwechi had taken the first empty seat when he entered the boardroom.

“Mr Atwechi,” Kim began, “Tell us about The Invisible Fist.”

“Er, it’s a self-published book, by Sara Swaka, about power in the C-suite,” Atwechi replied. He cleared his throat, and continued, “It’s about the people who run companies without setting foot in the building. In short, it’s a barb at the powerless managerial factotums that pass for bosses.”

Atwechi was given to fancy phrases, too.

“Do you know Sara?” Kim asked, his face empty of emotion.

“Yes. Sara and I shared an MBA class at the university, about six years ago,” Atwechi replied.

“Did you, at any time, advise her on this book, which I understand, has so far sold 100,000 copies — more than our best-selling title at 25,000 copies?” Kim pressed Atwechi further.

“Yes, she first brought her manuscript to us. Bob’s team evaluated it, and suggested substantial changes to make it suitable for our list. Filipo prepared a cost estimate while my team put together a sales strategy were we to take it up,” he replied. “We sent the manuscript back with Bob’s suggestions.”

Atwechi then explained that Sara made the changes and returned the manuscript only for Filipo to reject the project, citing budget constraints.

Kim turned to Filipo. “Is that so?”

Filipo stammered a near inaudible, “Yes.”

“Speak up!” Cleopa bellowed.

Filipo found his voice and put it to fair use.

“Magoya and Oluoch said the book painted managers in bad light; as non-thinking stooges, who pander to the selfish interests of outsiders. So I rejected it.”

“You think she was wrong, right?” Kim chimed in, a wicked smile playing on his face.

Filipo had no answer.

Ugly altercation

“So, budget constraint was a fitting excuse, right Magoya?” asked Cleopa.

Magoya did not respond. Oluoch continued staring at his laptop.

“I asked a question, Magoya,” Cleopa insisted.

“That book is not by Sara Swaka. It’s by Donald here!” Magoya said, pointing at Atwechi. “He wrote to disparage us. In fact, there is a whole chapter titled ‘Useless meetings and the men who call them.’ He gives an example of a fictitious company in the book and the description fits us, especially Oluoch and I.”

“Rubbish!” Atwechi shouted, shocking everybody in the room for he rarely raised his voice. Even Kim and Cleopa, who rarely exhibited any emotion, gasped.

“Those are lame excuses from a court jester with more time to waste than a mind to think. I did no such th---.”

Before Atwechi finished what he was saying, Magoya grabbed him by the collar and tried to punch him on the jaw. Atwechi, fast on his feet, blocked Magoya’s blow with his right hand, hit him in the face and drove a knee into his groin, forcing him to double up in pain.

The rest of the managers moved in and separated them, ending an ugly altercation that had left Magoya bloodied in the face.

When everyone had resumed their seats, Kim spoke.

“Gentlemen, this is not how we handle our differences. We will have a meeting to discuss this.”

An hour later, Atwechi was escorted out of the building by security officers. He had been fired for gross misconduct. Magoya had been taken to the hospital, where he stayed for three days.


A short while later, Atwechi went to the office to collect his severance cheque. When he was leaving, Yosam followed him out to the parking lot.

“Hey man, sorry about what happened,” Yosam said after pleasantries. Atwechi didn’t say a word.

“Man to man, Atwechi, are you sure you didn’t write part of that book?”

“No, not at all. Why do you ask?”

The Invisible Fist described this place to a fault.”

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