Euphemisms and cliches abound in the office environment. Companies never “fire 200 people” but rather “undergo restructuring exercises”. Managers never butcher the assumptions in a financial model, but “unforeseen exceptions arose”.

Here are my three personal favourites with my interpretation of what is actually being said, plus my two cents worth.

“We’re agile”We’re a chaotic mess.

Agile is an over-used euphemism for chaos. It gives people an excuse for their lack of organisation or indicates a lack of / ever-changing priorities. Real agile organisations implement repeatable practices, and teams never feel like they’re in the middle of a dogfight.

“We have a flat structure”We like to give the appearance of non-hierarchical leadership.

Some companies showcase their egalitarianism on their org charts. In practice though, flat structures are over-rated. Everyone feels like they have a say, and accountabilities are not clear. Responsibility pools in the hands of the people who get things done, strong personalities quickly become annoying, and slackers coast and enjoy the ride. I’m all for meritocratic hierarchy with minimal bureaucracy.

“We need to organise a retro”Someone messed up big-time

Building feedback loops to improve operationally is good practice, and retrospectives are a critical component. However, in dysfunctional teams they typically only happen when things have gone off the rails, and they become a forum for finger-pointing. Avoid this pattern at all costs.

How great would it be if we could have honest conversations without the corporate doublespeak?