by RAIMA LARTER
Bucket of Balls by Mike Cardus | Flickr
The Team Training Facilitator is rummaging in a duffel bag while we Perceivers mingle by the coffee. We’ve been told to stay out of the way as the Judging folks move tables. Fine. Monique is fighting with Betty about how to properly move a table, but why get involved?
I don’t want to be here, but Team Building is a required Employee Performance Improvement Module. I missed the last EPIM because my Justin got pink eye. If I had a husband worth anything I could’ve called him, but I don’t, so that’s that. Nothing I can do about it.
Now Monique is fighting with Derrick, who is one of the Perceiving. You can tell we’re Perceiving because everyone in our group is wearing a tag that says INFP or ESTP or anything, as long as it has a “P.” Derrick scribbled out whatever his tag said and wrote “ESPN,” which he thinks shows he’s funny, but Monique says proves he’s a smart-ass. Which he is.
“Listen up!” The Team Training Facilitator has jammed a pencil over her ear. “Everyone get in a circle.” All the kiss-ass types form a circle. “That’s right,” the facilitator says. “You can tell these folks are Judging, right?”
Judging is better, according to Monique, because they like things organized. I am not Judging, as anyone could tell by looking at my desk. Neither is Derrick, but who’s keeping score?
“We’re going to play a little game,” the facilitator chirps, making her eyes sparkle. How does she make her eyes sparkle at will? Her sparkles shoot around the room at us slackers who still haven’t joined the circle. She pulls out a yellow ball the size of a honeydew melon and bleats, “Derrick!” as she nails him with it.
He rubs his arm, frowning. “What’d you do that for?”
Monique grins and cracks her chewing gum. Rose leaves the circle, finds her bag, and pulls out her knitting.
I should take up knitting. It’d give me something to do in these endless EPIMs, and you know there are going to be more. Our division has the lowest Team Performance Ratings in the agency, so you know they’ll make us do another EPIM before long.
Yet all I can think about is the work spilling off my desk, the toppling towers of forms I need to process, the messages from Justin’s teacher saying he’s got pink eye again. I need to call the school, but I’m trapped in this f-ing training, so what am I supposed to do?
We all know it’s not the “team” that’s at fault. It’s Derrick who makes us miss our goals, quarter after quarter.
The facilitator stares at Rose, who is knitting and humming, then holds up the honeydew. “Derrick, listen up! I’ll call your name, then toss you the ball. Got that?”
“Yes, Miss Mumble-mumble.” He actually says her name, but I don’t catch it. Not that I care what it is. She showed up this morning from HR and said she was going to build us into a team, but you know what’ll happen—we’ll do some stupid HR exercise, and then Miss Facilitator will disappear, and we’ll never see the woman again. Ever. Why bother learning her name?
“Derrick!” She tosses him the ball and he grabs it with one giant paw. “Think of the ball as a report or form,” Miss Facilitator barks. “Your job is to move it to the next team member as swiftly as possible. Got it? Call someone else’s name, Derrick, and toss it to them.”
He looks around the room, gleeful. Monique cracks her gum. Rose purls, then knits. Betty wrings her hands. A dozen other colleagues refuse to make eye contact with Derrick.
Miss Facilitator seems to have hit on something. This is exactly how these folks behave when I’ve sent them a requisition form. Like they don’t even work here.
“Monique!” Derrick shoots her the ball and she snatches it.
“Call another name, Monique,” Miss Facilitator orders.
Monique’s laser-like gaze settles on Tyrone, who’s trying to make himself as small as possible in the corner. “Tyrone!” She blasts the ball his way but he snags it, immediately yelling out Frank’s name and tossing the ball towards him.
“Lakeisha!” Frank shouts.
“Barb!” she shouts.
“Matt!” etc, each throw followed by tittering or uproarious laughter when the target—er, recipient—misses. I watch. No one’s called my name.
Miss Facilitator pulls out a small pink ball. I spike to attention when she shouts my name. The pink ball hurtles toward me, crossing paths with the yellow one. I catch the pink ball at the same moment Monique catches the honeydew. People cheer and I look around the room hungrily, seeking my victim. Monique grins at me.
“Derrick!” I shout just as Monique shouts “Derrick!” He sees both balls coming and crouches as they bounce off his head. “Hey! Why’d y’all do that?”
“You know why,” Monique says under her breath.
The facilitator pulls out a bag containing dozens more balls, all sorts of colors. “Now. This should get interesting. Each ball represents a purchase order, request from the top—what have you.” I notice her name tag. Diane, it says.
She tosses a ball to everyone in the room, even Rose, who fumbles her knitting trying to catch hers. Diane hands me the blue ball and tosses the green to Monique. “Here you go, girls. Monique, you start.”
Monique turns to watch as Rose shuffles to the circle, clutching her ball. She leans to whisper to Frank. He grins and whispers to Lakeisha. By the time the message reaches me, I’ve figured it out.
In unison, we shout “Derrick!” Miss Facilitator stares in disbelief as Derrick is pelted with dozens of balls.
After they stop bouncing, Rose reaches for her knitting. “Best way build a team?” She sinks into her chair. “Find the common enemy.”
Before moving to Colorado, Raima Larter was a chemistry professor in Indiana who secretly wrote fiction and tucked it away in drawers. Her first two novels, “Fearless,” and “Belle o’ the Waters,” were published in 2019 and her nonfiction popular science book, “Spiritual Insights from the New Science: Complex Systems and Life,” was published in 2021. She has published numerous short stories in places such as Cleaver, Another Chicago Magazine, and BULL, and has released two short story collections. Read more about her work at raimalarter.com.