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The Mouse In the Conference Room

April 11, 2013

It’s sounds crazy, but I once worked for a company where they lost the keys to a conference room. I’m not sure why they had a lock on the conference room anyway, but someone locked it and no one could find the key.

We simply scheduled around it, shifting meetings to a conference on the second floor. I was new to the company. I think I’d been there about a week, as manager of the Exchange and SharePoint engineering team.

I assumed that someone, somewhere had a key and eventually we’d have access to our conference room again. But days turned into weeks. I would occasionally check in with our Administrative Assistant. But each time got the same answer, “They’re still looking.”

No one wanted to hire a locksmith to try to pick a lock for a conference room so there we sat.

One day our team meeting conflicted with another meeting in the overbooked 2nd floor conference room.

“Hey Ed, let’s hold our team meeting in the 1st floor conference room.”

My lead engineer just stared at me.

“That’s the conference room that’s locked.”

“Yeah, I know. Grab one of those tall stools from the break room and meet me outside of the conference room.”

Ed was about 6’4″. We needed height.

A few minutes later he arrived outside the conference room with the stool. After making sure that there were no witnesses I explained my plan.

“I’m probably breaking a bunch of OSHA rules by asking you to do this, but I want you to climb up on this stool, pop the acoustic ceiling tile and use the loop I’ve formed in this mouse cord to snag the door handle from the inside and pull it up.”
And just like that, Engineering had our conference room back.

Our Admin was naturally curious when I told her that the locked conference room was now available.

“Who unlocked it?”

“I have no idea.”

Our company was big on rules, process and procedures. There was no way I was going to expose one of my engineers to any possible reaction.

Now, you’re probably saying, “Rodney, that’s stupid. Who would really care so long as the work got done?”

Trust me. People care.

Many years before the mouse in the conference room, as a new engineer at Microsoft my team was moving from a cube farm on the 5th floor to a cube farm on the 6th floor. As anyone who’s spent time in a cubicle can tell you, there’s a big difference having your desk at 28″ or 32″ or even a stand-up desk at 48″.

As we were settling into our new digs, we all started adjusting the modular furniture, and the height of the desks. You had to remove a couple of screws and then move the desk sections. We’d all done it multiple times, and just got busy making the changes.

Everyone except Stan. Stan instead decided to email the maintenance group and ask them to come adjust his desk. This was the proper procedure, but it also could take days to get a response. Stan knew it might be a while so he ended his email with this:

“If you cannot get to this request in the next 24 hours, I’ll just go ahead and make the adjustments myself.”

Forty-eight hours later two large maintenance guys showed up and explained to Stan that it was a violation of company policy for anyone except authorized maintenance personal to adjust the desks.

They looked at the rest of us and said, “Who adjusted these other desks?”

“We have no idea. . .They were like this when we arrived.”

Just because you find an engineering solution doesn’t mean that you have to advertise the fact.

From → Team Building

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