Due to the many “panopticum”-like control mechanisms, the majority of call center agents work the phones individually in their "project", Mark and Ludo say (names changed). Interaction or cooperation with colleagues are therefore rare. What is "the team" all about then, we ask?
Despite framing their team as an organizational unit – “a group of people who are trying to keep a project going”, as Ludo stated – neither Mark nor Ludo considered it a work-oriented team, because time pressure prevents them from being one. “They always say it is a team, but it is not, in the sense that 'the three minutes' are the most important”, Mark suggested [“the three minutes” are the amount of time each call center agent can spend on a customer, as prescribed by management.]. Due to the focus on quick calls, both agents felt they have no role in the company, as Ludo mentioned, but to
create good stats, it is all about where they [the management] can save money and that goes to such extremes that you do not have time to repeat what those people [the customers] just bought or to tell your own name or whatever, in every call you try cut down some seconds. It's all about the conversation time, there is just no time to help the customer. And then, there are people [colleagues] who run around for half an hour in order to do God knows what and I have to work for them in the meantime.
Ludo and Mark acknowledged that autonomous and rank-breaking behavior happen occasionally in order to talk with colleagues or to leave one's desk for a second, despite the fact that it hurts the personal stats. Ludo:
You can create time, of course...you push a certain button on your phone and then you leave for ten minutes to talk with somebody. Some colleagues get into trouble with that, it depends on who your are, more or less.
he wants to be a part of us, but if you go to him, you get no answer or a strange answer. If you are not accessible, no one will come to you. As long as you are only engaging with yourself as a team leader and pressure us constantly, your are not a team.
Disciplinary randomness – “for some, disciplinary measures are based on their work, for others it is based on their persona”, as Ludo mentioned – is another central frustration directed towards the back office and the team leader. The problem of exploitation constantly comes up in our conversations as well: “the team leader plucks those people [the agents], so they will go to the limits of their possibilities”, said Mark. Also, the perception of the agents' own exploitation is systematically contrasted to the work ethos of the team leader. Talking about the latter's role in the team, Ludo said that the team leader's task is to “pass along his own tasks to others.” This lack of work ethos is also suggested in the attitude of the “hags of the back office”, as Mark suggested, who are doing
nothing, but putting themselves on 'Teambesprechung' [team meeting]...this morning, they talked about some party for half an hour...that is perfectly ok for them, although they are not working then either. But if am on 'Teambesprechung' in order to write them a little letter because I have troubles handling something, they start bitching.
Despite random acts of mutual support, extensive time pressure and control mechanisms seem to lead to an atomized and atomizing work environment pervaded with a dog-eat-dog mentality. Ludo echoed the latter by describing the back office agents as non-cooperative people
who keep their work for themselves, who do not want to share their work, not even among themselves, so there is no team whatsoever, because these people are afraid to lose what they have, even if these are little things. Everybody is working individually, really.
If you can make someone better, if you can make up for someone's deficiency, everybody profits from that. If someone calls for a long time [with one customer], that is a real problem to me too. Trying to avoid such a situation, I consider a team to be like that, but it is a bit like 'jeder gegen jeden' [everyone against everybody]. How can a team come together like this?