A retired technical trainer opens up about a colleague’s untidy behaviour, how this became an undiscussable, and the impact on people and the organisation.

Barry (not his real name) was a technical trainer for a large international company head-quartered in the US. The undiscussable surrounded a fellow instructor who failed to clean up his training room after conducting several consecutive days of training. This resulted in dirty whiteboards, messy student stations, food left on desks, and course materials left out. Instructors who needed to use the room afterwards had to clean it up themselves.

At least one of the instructors mentioned this issue to the department manager, to no apparent change; either the department manager didn’t talk to the offending instructor, or the instructor ignored any requests to be more responsible. The situation continued.

The instructor was a good looking man, a few years younger than the female manager, and both were single. Socially, they had much in common and were very good friends. The other instructors were aware of their relationship, but they were somewhat older, and didn’t mix in the same social circles. Being aware of these things, Barry and the other instructors chose not to take the issue further, once it had already been mentioned and seemingly disregarded.

This resulted in a loss of respect towards the offending instructor and the department manager. Resentment accumulated amongst their colleagues and the issue led to “a negative impact on teamwork goals”.

Barry retired from the company without this undiscussable ever coming to light. In his view, when the departmental manager failed to take action, a culture of disempowerment was created. He and his colleagues felt unable to change the issue so they thought there was no point in speaking up. It was never discussed again.

Signs of a lasting culture of undiscussables are still rippling through the organisation today. Since Barry retired the manager has left, and the untidy instructor has taken his place. The company has since been in decline and has reduced their staff of instructors from six to two. Barry’s case shows how even a small issue, when overlooked or ignored, can have a big impact on what events will follow.