I want to experience camaraderie. I want to inspire camaraderie.
I walk into the boardroom, presentation in hand, excited to begin. I look around at expectant faces and feel an onslaught of mixed emotions.
I am about to present my topic ‘camaraderie’, a collection of slides containing weeks worth of research. I am happy with the results, the experience; the questions, findings and analysis. So why the uncertainty, the reticence?
I am less than one year into a new role, job and country. I feel vulnerable, in a humbling sort of way. Even in the early days in my career, this is a familiar feeling. Just before I present something important, speak to something important, I feel myself hold my breath. Inwardly, I am holding the moment to myself. It is the moment before I put voice to my convictions, thoughts, ideas. It is the moment before I reveal a part of myself.
In this particular team and environment, I feel psychologically safe to give voice to what I have and want to share. The curiousity in me is abundant with expression. As I look back over my years in the corporate world, there were three years I worked in Egypt that stood out. This was a period of time I like to call the stage of Camaraderie.
We were an advertising team of professionals spanning the generations from veterans to mid-level career professionals to fresh graduates. Vikas, recently joining the team, introduced us to the concept of presenting a topic of our choice once a month as a way to get to know each other better, to practice writing, designing and delivering a slide presentation, to practice a pitch presentation before delivery to the client. This request stirred my creative juices and had me want to come up with something new, innovative, different. I took on the challenge of concept development, research, design and to deliver on the request quite literally. It was after all an opportunity to practice our craft!
At the time, I was reading Star Trek – The Next Generation (TNG) books. You see, as a self-confessed Trekkie and TV junkie, I missed television. The English-language programs on Egyptian television in 1997 were of a limited variety. I had the choice of a backlog of the ever popular soap ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and re-runs of ‘Hercules’ the TV Show and ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’.
Don’t get me wrong. I watched them as my cravings for any TV show overcame me. I had also brought with me from Canada, my former home, several Star Trek TNG books, satisfying my fix of stories from the Starship Enterprise!
In a particular story I was reading, a lesson was being taught. It was the lesson of tapping the talent of team members. The enterprise characters were on an away mission. As was would invariably happen, an end-of-world crisis occurs. It struck me as significantly important that, in this story, the characters knew about each other’s talents, interests beyond the day-to-day operations of a starship. It was through this knowledge of their individual ‘superpowers’ that they are able to survive their predicament. This gave me an idea for the presentation – Building Camaraderie.
The idea evolved; get to know better the immediate and extended members of our team. Why? So that when we are under stress or a crisis of monumental proportions, we lean in on each other’s strengths rather than play the blame game! The concept in hand, the ‘Why’ answered, next came the research; the ‘How’. I interviewed over twenty team members and presented my hypothesis: when we know each other personally, build a connection and relationship, then we can work better, more effectively. I asked each team member three simple questions:
“What do you like to do in your spare time?”
“What would you like to do, if you had all the time in the world?”
“What is one thing that most people do not know about you?”
What transpired beyond the presentation and through the years was for me immensely memorable and significant about team development. I asked myself, and my colleagues, how well do we really know each other. It is my favourite character in Star Trek TNG that epitomizes the trap many of us fall into:
“I’m not good in groups. It’s difficult to work in a group when you’re omnipotent.”
~ Q to Data, “Deja Q” Episode, Star Trek – The Next Generation
This is the lesson I learned: connecting on a professional basis is important, what’s as important is to connect on a human level. As I ask my questions, interview my colleagues, I feel a deep sense of connection. I recall the moment clearly.
I take a deep breath, stand at the front, smile broadly and present the slides. I’m eager to share, learn and teach. Sports, music, travel and intellectual pursuits are revealed, shared, exchanged. We share moments of laughter, insight, connection and relationship. I emerge from this experience feeling truly safe to courageously meet the inevitable crises, dramas, deadline crunches and creative disputes of a thriving and successful advertising agency.