Saturday, September 22, 2007

To the gentle sound of Formula One...

The courtyard outside the training room
In which 'the team' plays away from home and we sing 'Fiddler on the Roof' (badly)

My employers arrange an annual 'away weekend' which focuses on company strategy, some training and - importantly - some quality 'bonding' time (bonding, not bondage! OK?).

This year we travelled to a massive hotel and conference facility complex near to Silverstone race track - the hotel had displays of really fascinating things like... photos of racing drivers and (yaaaawwwnnnn...) well, I forget what else.

Our first event of the day (having negotiated traffic to the accompaniment of Israeli rock music on the CD player and enjoyed a welcome bacon sandwich) was a training 'demonstration' by two actors. They do a 'scene' and then welcome feedback from the audience - for example they do a difficult appraisal, and one of the two 'characters' will ask for feedback on what should happen next or what was wrong/right in the action. This is called forum theatre and does not involve role play by the audience - a factor which puts many people off participating in any kind of training like this. But, I have to say, it was extremely successful and generated lively debate. The 'late appearance' of two of the team was due to a Sat Nav... (hate the things! Maps and a brain is all you need!). "Not the sat nav," my colleague said.... "my fat fingers typing in the wrong postcode!".

The noise from the racetrack was audible when we opened the windows in the hot training room. "Can we shut that noise up?" the boss asked. No - it's Silverstone Race Track. Usually she gets her own way, but this once she conceded that perhaps sending someone out to ask them to be quiet may be a lost cause.

After lunch we had a session on communication followed by planning for the future through time-lining. At the end of this each department had to present on their areas and periods (in other words, Marketing had to do three presentations, on the last quarter of this year, 2008 and 2009). With my newly acquired colleague, Lucy, we'd done lots of work and had all sorts of plans in place, but it made sense for mem to present. Had to be short, sharp and meaningful. I have absolutely no idea why I did it - but I presented the first and last sections in rhyme! Poor Lucy - she'd only met me once at a lunch, and now she had spent an afternoon with me and the team and I'd 'rapped up' marketing in a rather unusual fashion. We packed up pretty promptly so folks could enjoy the spa and swimming pool and generally chill before supper. I managed to do none of that - I had a nice bath and sat and played guitar quietly in my room.

We had a brief champagne reception with the bosses, then down to supper where we had the usual 'three around three' (which is not only the name of a traditional UK folk dance, but also how we shift ourselves round in between each course so that you get to sit next to different people and 'mix'. It works very well - with us - because of the kind of team we are. I had some interesting conversations and some nice food. Then (after copious amounts of wine had been consumed and I have to say, for a change, not by me!) it was suggested that Shani and I fetch our instruments. Let the fun and games commence!

Shani and I do not play standards, we play our own brand of acoustic rock/folk/indie schmindie heaven knows what! But, at a gathering like this - they want sing-a-long. We started with one of our own songs to 'wake up' the audience and then we went full tilt into .... well, into a melee. As the wine consumption increased, so did the audience participation. This was no way a 'performance' by us - it was a 'facilitation'. We 'facilitated' the performance of some interesting vocal duets including 'American Pie' and 'Summer Loving' (very noisy, enthusiastic and almost unbelivably hysterical) and some interesting solos too. Shani and I just played along with whatever was requested to the best of our ability (including Hava Nagila, which I could play, amazingly, having not even sung it for over 30 years). I have to say, though, the highlight was a version of 'I am the Music Man' which included impersonations of staff members. Highly non-PC, but extremely funny. One thing I did notice was Lucy's face - she's not even started with the company officially yet - and she's been 'baptised by fire' (or by whatever means you can use to describe our extreme story telling/song singing/camerarderie based culture).

As we played we realised that we desperately needed a different song book - the few songs we could play along with (The Boxer, Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me, and some other highly non-memorable stuff) we realised that what we needed was not fully within our grasp - a book of show stoppers and musical hits... yes, not what we intend to do with our musical careers, but for occasions like this, certainly what we need.

As the singing degenerated (my audience split into two part harmonies failed miserably) we packed up at 11 and left the room - and drifting from the room we had departed came three part harmonies of Mustang Sally!

That was about it for me - some folks had gone off to play cards, and some went to bed early whilst some stayed up till 3 am drinking! (no way, with training in the morning!?) The morning session featured a culture audit - and one thing is evident, our people like each other. The anaysis was an interesting exercise and the expected different perspectives from different groups within the organisation emerged, but overall the feeling is still that the company I work for has a strong supportive culture.

The next few months are going to be very interesting for Lucy and I. Lots of changes ahead, lots to achieve, and lots and lots of fun. But I promise, no more rhyming presentations!
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