Archive for September, 2011
I got some shocking news last week: my brother, who has been my partner in New England Crane School for the past year, is taking off for greener pastures and leaving the business behind.
My first thought was—good lord, we’ve worked our tails off for a year and now it all goes down the drain. All the potential clients we have lined up for this winter, who wanted to wait until the slower construction season to start working on their crane operator’s licenses, will be disappointed and have to find other providers. Of which there are very few in New England.
My second thought was, why can’t I continue the business on my own? Just because I’m not a subject matter expert in crane operations doesn’t mean I can’t still run the business. I think I’ve learned enough about it over the past year. I just have to find and hire and good trainer, someone who really knows his stuff.
And with that thought I’m off and running. We have a potential candidate already and he’s coming to interview in a couple weeks. The phone is still ringing and we’re starting to put our winter class schedule together. To my colleagues who look at me funny when I say I run a crane school I respond: What better business could I be in right now? The construction industry needs better safety standards for crane operations. Crane operators need understanding providers who will help them get through the written testing rather than seeing it as a nasty little ‘gotcha’ process designed to knock the most experienced operators out of the game. I’m proud of the work we do and proud to be able to continue it. New challenges? Bring ‘em on!
I love it when this happens. I had another video teleconference session to facilitate this past week, and where is the conference room I’m working from? In the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Perfect.
So I left two days early, took my dog with me, and rented a little cabin on a river with a fireplace. Here’s the view from my screened-in porch over the river:
Here’s my dog, Jave, enjoying the view from the top of Mount Flume:
Here’s Jave not enjoying the steep, rocky hike up. I had to lift him up on some of the ledges.
After two days of hiking my training session began, and I felt refreshed and full of energy for the session. While I was hiking I had lots of time to think about the material I was facilitating and make decisions about my approach. It has never made much sense to me when people complain about work crossing over into their personal lives and vice versa, and about how they need to compartmentalize. I respect whatever people need to do to make their lives work, but for me, I need things to intersect. I need to sit on a mountain top and get creative ideas about work. (And yes, sure, sometimes I’m in the middle of work and I get distracted by wishing I was back on that mountain top.) My life is made of whole cloth, so it doesn’t work to split it up into a neatly labeled filing cabinet.
And while we’re on the subject, yes, I’m one of those annoying people who takes cell phone calls from the trail. The alternative is that I don’t get to go on the hike on a weekday, so why not? Here’s what I want to say to the folks who complain about technology and harken back to the “good old days” when you were cut off from work-related communications during vacations. Technology is a great thing in that it gives us more freedom. You can turn that phone off or leave it your car if you want, but I choose not to, and that’s the point—I have a choice. In the days before we were so connected, we didn’t have those kinds of choices.
Gervase Bush, one of my favorite organizational development theorists, likes to talk about teams, tribes and federations. Here are his definitions:
- A team in the truest sense of the word is a group of people who are so task interdependent that they sink or swim together. We call many work groups “teams” who don’t actually meet this definition.
- A federation is a group of people, usually managers, who share common goals but have their own areas of responsibility. They compete for resources, and usually that means they don’t work very well together.
- A tribe is a group of people who aren’t task interdependent and thus don’t meet the strict definition of a team. Like a federation, they work toward the same overarching mission but they have their separate areas of responsibility. What distinguishes them from a federation, however, is that they have a strong sense of identity with the team and care about the group to the extent they they will look at the good of the whole before putting their own needs first. An extreme example of a tribe is a family. Each family member pursues their own work, recreation, education, etc. but they care so much about the family that they will sacrifice their own needs for the good of the group.
So what most organizations really want, Bushe says, when they call consultants and ask for team building, is to turn a federation into a tribe. That sense of identity with the team is the elusive thing that we know we want but can’t figure out how to get.
I think this is interesting on a personal level, because when I look back at my life, the best times have always been when I belonged to a tribe. It wasn’t always a work tribe; sometimes it was just a group of friends. What really distinguished it was that I was proud to be part of the group.
There was the tribe I belonged to in my first job, when I was a corporate HR director at a hotel company—my two colleagues and I slept, ate and breathed our work, spending most of our time outside of work with each other and sharing ideas (and drinking beer, of course). We had passion for what we were doing and we were great friends as well as colleagues.
Then there was the tribe of ski instructors I hung out with for a few years when I taught skiing, and most recently the mountain rescue team I belonged to (which was truly a team but also had all the best qualities of a tribe). Once again, what distinguished us was a shared passion for what we were doing and a sense of pride in the group.
What was hardest for me when I moved from Colorado back to New Hampshire last year is that I lost my tribe, and I haven’t found a new one yet. What does one do, run an ad in the personals reading, “single white female seeking a new tribe”?
As consultants who work from home, people like me have a distinct disadvantage in finding a group to bond with. We often have to look outside the traditional work-related sources to find one. But on the positive side, I have the ability to go out and help other work groups become tribes. And when I’m successful, that’s the greatest reward of all.
Sometimes I do things that I think are really smart and proactive and they turn out to be the stupidest thing I could have done.
I was supposed to be in Rutland, Vermont this week to do another three-day training session via video teleconference. It’s an hour and a half drive, so I decided to get a room this time instead of commuting. Then when I saw the news of Hurricane Irene coming I decided I should get a room in Killington, which is about 15 minutes away from Rutland but is on high ground and has no major rivers running through it.
I left early on Sunday to make sure I wasn’t held up by road closures. As I walked out the door my friend Mark said, “They’re saying on CNN that the flooding will be worse in Vermont than on the coast because of all the waterways.” Instead of thinking maybe I shouldn’t go, I took that to mean I’d better leave now.
I made it down Route 4 east just about an hour before they closed it due to the Ottaquechee River washing it out. All day and night Sunday, I watched the news of flooding in many lowland Vermont towns, including Rutland, and I felt smug because I’d been smart enough to book a room in Killington.
In the morning when I got up, I had no power and one of the Rutland Herald headlines was Killington is an island with no way in and no way out. My session was canceled because I couldn’t get to it. At first I didn’t care; I had my dog with me and the Appalachian Trail was only a couple miles away, so I went hiking. But when I came back, people started saying that Route 4 was so badly damaged that it could be weeks before it was fixed. The Killington Base Lodge collapsed. And while I was relatively lucky, having a dry hotel room which had gotten power back, there was a lot of talk about running out of food and supplies in the area.
Of course, elsewhere in Vermont things were much more dire. In some places small communities were still flooded, houses had washed away and they were completely cut off from help. I should not have been complaining.
On Tuesday I went hiking again and thought about my situation. I decided I would start walking the next morning. After all, I was only about 45 miles from home, and I could probably get a ride after about 25 miles.
Then when I got back to my room there was this news: a temporary route would be open for a two-hour window the next morning to get stranded people from Killington to the interstate.
I lined up at 7:30, along with about 200 other cars:
While we waited I talked to a bunch of people from New Jersey. They said they came up on Saturday before the storm hit in order to avoid the flooding they expected at home. I guess some people were even smarter than I was.
We started moving at about 8:15. The road alternated between patches of “just fine, what hurricane?” and “was there really a road here?” Before each damaged piece of road, there was usually a very nice man in a police uniform stopping each car and telling us, “Be very careful. One car at a time on the bridges. Go slow. You’re traveling at your own risk.” I did everything they said to do, except maybe it wasn’t very careful to take pictures while I was driving. Here are some of the things I saw:
I couldn’t take pictures in some of the worst spots because we were driving on dirt and I didn’t want to take my hands off the wheel.
After about three hours I made it home. Next time I will see “smart and proactive” differently. If you want to learn more about the Vermont flooding and how you can help victims, visit this Facebook page: