Sweat beaded on Hank’s forehead. He clasped his hands together. They felt clammy. He had never had sweaty palms before. Hank knew he had done nothing wrong, but he also knew that the truth made no difference. Denise’s stare seemed to cut through his soul. Her coal black eyes looked as dead as they were dark.
Lewis and George sat to his right. Their arms were crossed, their brows furrowed, and their lips were curled down in disapproval. To his left Lori and Rachel sat. Lori drummed her fingers on the boardroom table, feigning impatience. Rachel refused to look Hank in the eye.
Hank had been to these blamestorming sessions before. However, he had always been on the other side of the table. So this is what it feels like, Hank thought. Should I even try to defend myself?
“Well?” Denise’s voice was impatient.
Hank cleared his throat. His speech was deliberate, “Well, Denise, I’m not sure why I’m here.”
Lori jumped in with a condescending tone, “You’re here because somebody in your department dropped the ball. A bug in our software caused the assembly line robots to go out of control at our clients’ sites. They’re looking at several million dollars in damage, and one death. The lawsuits should be arriving on our doorstep at any moment. Is there something about that you can’t comprehend?”
“Well, yea,” said Hank. “I’m familiar with the robots suddenly getting stuck in a loop and smashing everything within their reach, but my team doesn’t work on that code.”
Lori rolled her eyes, and everyone jumped as George’s hand slapped the wooden table. All eyes looked in George’s direction, and he responded with his voice raised. “Really? That’s your excuse? Your team had to run this code to test their part of the software. Why didn’t you catch this bug during your testing?”
“Wasn’t it your team that wrote the bug?” Hank asked George.
Denise jumped in. “Hank, in case you’ve forgotten, we’re a team. Our success depends on everyone backing each other up. If you’ve forgotten that maybe it’s time you start considering other options.”
There it is, thought Hank. They’re hoping I’ll hang myself. I can’t let this happen. I have a family to support. Maybe it’s time to start pushing back on some people.
“Denise, I’ve been in my job longer than anyone else at this table, including you. I’m well aware we are a team, and you’re right, my team should have caught this bug.”
George piped in, “Good, I’m glad you see it our way.”
Hank pointed his index finger at George, and said, “One moment, I wasn’t finished. If my team had been involved, we would’ve caught this problem. I talked with my lead developer, and it turns out George’s team made some changes that were sent to the clients without first being tested by our team.”
Denise clasped her hands together and rested them under her chin. Her eyes shot over to George. Everyone else, including Hank, crossed their arms and glared at George. “Well?” asked Denise.
George stammered. Fear filled his eyes, and he absent-mindedly reached down and fiddled with his pen. The right corner of Hank’s lip curled up despite his best effort. He had saved himself and his team. Now it was George’s turn to sweat in their little blame game.
“Well yea,” George finally managed to say. “We did push a bug fix through without everyone testing it, but that code change couldn’t have caused the disaster.”
“What makes you so sure?” asked Denise.
Hank could see George’s forehead glistening under the fluorescent lights. George squirmed, sighed, and then said, “My lead developer told me it didn’t.”
Denise put her arms down and leaned in, “Does she know what did cause it?”
George looked down at the table, “Um, not yet.”
Rachel finally spoke up, “George, you do know a man was crushed by one of the robots. He had a wife and two kids and was their only source of income. How could you sit there and let Hank take the blame?”
George’s brows furrowed, “Who said it isn’t his fault? What if something else caused the failure?”
Hank knew his job was on the line. More than that, his very reputation could be destroyed if he didn’t speak back up. “George, stop trying to deflect the blame. Your team wrote the code that killed someone. We all know that. To make matters worse, you didn’t thoroughly test your bug fix, and now we could be sued out of existence. We could all lose our jobs because of a screw up that you won’t take responsibility for.”
Denise chimed in, “I think we have what we need. Everyone is dismissed, except George.” The team stood to leave, and George and Denise remained seated. The group began to exit when Denise spoke up.
Hank stopped in his tracks and fear shot up his back. Maybe he wasn’t going to escape the blamestorm after all.
“Good job,” said Denise.
Hank smiled, nodded, walked out of the meeting room, and closed the door behind him.