Written by Marc Bolick
In August, our U.S.-based team came together for a face-to-face meetup in Greenville, South Carolina, the closest place we have to a “headquarters” in our dispersed organization. Many of us had teamed up on projects in cities around the world, but everyone had not yet met in person. While we thrive on flexibility, nothing can match in-person interaction: something significant changes when people come together into the same physical space. A little magic happened during this meetup, and I thought I’d share how much we all gained by coming together and jamming on how to improve how we do our thing.
Being part of a globally-dispersed network, our team frequently communicates via video conference to work on client projects or global and North America strategy. But, when we sit together “in real life” there’s a component of empathy-building among the group, and around our common goals and aspirations, that’s impossible to foster any other way.
During daytime sessions at our Greenville office, I was reminded how much interpersonal chemistry happens when you are in the same physical space with other people. Nothing compares to picking up on those non-verbal queues, like a colleague shifting in their chair or wrinkling their brow at something that just doesn’t sit right for them. We were able to catch the spark in another team members’ eyes when they suddenly had an idea to share with the group. We could focus on them entirely as they spoke, and as a result, increase that all-important empathy that’s at the core of what we do.
Another example of practicing what we preach was our visioning session, where we decided to use prototyping to help us all align on where we wanted to be in the medium term. That turned out to be just what we needed to ground the discussion and come to a shared vision. It proved once again that prototyping is a great way for a group to find a unified voice, not to mention the fact that it’s just plain fun to play with Lego, modelling clay and glittery pipe cleaners!
Even as we honed our vision, we benefited from the value of our team’s diversity. Besides coming from several different professional disciplines, we have diverse origins, backgrounds and personality types. As facilitators, we know to make room for candid expression from everyone, especially to allow equal input from both introverts and extroverts. So, it’s no surprise that we used lots of sticky notes to ensure everyone’s voice was equally heard.
Our final session was incredibly motivating for me as we organized the accumulated sea of sticky notes into a set of clear priorities and an actionable game plan. We pulled the two days together into a common ideal and a set of projects that will drive our plan for growth through 2019.
Appreciating different thinkers
Having everybody together during two packed days of activities truly deepened what I’d already come to appreciate about each team member. For instance, Steve Bosak is energetic and outgoing in his creativity, while Ezequiel Williams is more measured in his approach. I relished the experience of having these different types of energy at play as we developed strategy and came up with creative approaches to some of our own challenges. The value of each individual’s experience and expertise also becomes clearer in such settings, like Terri Burch’s creativity in the nonprofit space, and David Esch’s deep experience in the international development sector.
We all know technology has given people the ability to produce amazing work from anywhere. However, there is so much to be said for the value of connecting face-to-face. It was a good reminder that the real magic happens at a very personal level — at those times and places where we’re privileged to truly connect with other human beings.
The real magic happens at a very personal level — at those times and places where we’re privileged to truly connect with other human beings.