Dec 9, 2008

A place where kids can be kids?

I've never been to Chuck E. Cheese but I've been to a number of McDonald's Playhouses. With three kids, my wife and I sometimes cave in to all the whining around when we pass in front of a restaurant around mealtime. I've never thought twice of it, except for the bad habits associated with fast food. But that's a whole 'nother discussion!

What prompted this post, however, is the following article from the Wall Street Journal:

Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese's, Again -

The article mentions a number of altercations at Chuck E. Cheese locations, where police needed to get involved in order to break things up. What really got me was this quote: "... in some cities, law-enforcement officials say the number of disruptions at their local outlet is far higher than at nearby restaurants, and even many bars." Holy kiddie brawls, Batman! In a restaurant for kids?

At first, I was surprised. But when you think about it, it fits neatly in our current society. Anyone heard of soccer fights? Or hockey brawls?

A few days ago, Sean Avery was handed a six game suspension for an off-colour comment about his ex-girlfriends. This from the same league that handed Tom Kostopoulos a scant three-day suspension for a hit that cost Mike Van Ryn "a broken nose, a broken finger, a gash on his forward, some lost teeth, and a concussion." The same can be seen in little league where some parents encourage their progeny to duke it out with the other children, in a bid to establish their "superiority."

A few years ago, I coached my son's soccer team. He was only 7, but before the season started, league officials had all coaches attend a meeting where they clearly laid out the disciplinary rules for the season. It seemed that the previous year, there had been some nasty altercations between parents, as well as some parents taking it out on young children on the field. Last year, I saw some inklings of this behaviour from the parents of our nine-year old kids.

So is it any wonder that in a place designed for kids, but where they serve alcohol (duh!), adults would be so badly behaved?

In business, similar behaviour can be seen, but in more subtle ways. I will pass on the many instances of disgruntled employees who have gone over the edge, and focus on more subtle behaviours. These behaviours include intimidation, sabotage, and gossipping.

All of these behaviours can be devastating to the victims, to the teams, and to the companies involved. And whether you like it or not, it's not a problem with the employees. It's a problem with their manages.

Intimidation, sabotage, and gossipping cannot continue unless it is implicitly endorsed by management. How do you implicitly endorse such bad behaviour? Easy: don't do anything about it, lay blame on the person who complains, and don't give them an opportunity to seek help.

Not every one is well-equipped to deal with these types of work-related problems. Yet, when a manager tells an employee to "figure it out himself and not act like a baby," the results may not be what is expected.

An employee may choose to stop talking and not do anything, instead of confronting someone that he/she perceives as stronger and more powerful than he/she. This will affect his/her productivity. If the problem affects more than one person, then an entire team can be demoralized because of one individual. Tempers can flare, and people can easily fly off the handle.

I've seen teams go bad when one person caused problems for other team members, but management did nothing to intervene and stop bad behaviour. Eventually, overall productivity declined until the offending individual was let go.

What would I recommend to Chuck E. Cheese?  I would start by removing alcohol in all locations. Then, I would publicize that event because the fact that I am blogging about it (and I've never been there) is an indication that Chuck E. Cheese is probably getting a lot of negative publicity.

After removing the alcohol, I would take a look at the numbers to determine whether the incident rate goes down. With every incident, I would look for a common pattern and address the root cause, until Chuck E. Cheese, indeed, becomes a place where "a kid can be a kid."

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