Saturday, July 16, 2005

Offsite Team Building

This is rather a tricky post, as I've been expressly told not to talk about specifics of the offsite. But I think if I stick to my usual path of generalities, all will be well. It certainly marked a departure from the other training days, and as such deserves some discussion.

Offsite teambuilding is a three day affair. All of us go out to 'the woods' to get to understand a little more about our own particular leadership styles, as well as our comforts and discomforts involving working in groups. I believe there is also some intent of having us 'get to know one another' better, but I must admit to this having been a secondary activity for me. One thing I've learned over the years -- and reinforced at this offsite course -- is that I'm very task driven. Mingling and 'getting to know one another' is a process with no set closure, and a difficult one for me to undertake. It's not that I don't care about you, where you come from, or why you're here; it's just that that information might not be particularly relevant to the whatever task or goal I happen to have at the time. Thus, what occurred at the party:

As part of our FS training, we are asked to volunteer to work on any one of various planning committees for extracurricular course events. There are committees for the swearing-in ceremony, general social events, finances (i.e., dues gathering), and so forth. The committee I ended up with was "Offsite Representational Events," something I gravitated to out of all of the choices because it seemed to promise spending time in the woods communing with nature. What it was, of course, was planning two parties, one for each night of offsite attendance. They are called 'events' mainly for quasi-legal reasons (something I discovered when I phoned the offsite location to ask where the nearest keg distributor might be; no one likes a 90+ person 'party' being held at their resort).

I volunteered to be committee chair because no one else seemed to want to, and because, by gum, I came here to be challenged and stretch myself! The coordination went fine. Each of our parties had a theme ("Survivor: FSI" and "Tacky American Tourist"), and decorations, food, music were all in line. All the committee members really pitched in and took responsibility and initiative. I can honestly say that it went truly swimmingly, and I think everyone enjoyed it.

During the parties, however, I found myself doing something that seemed to make others uncomfortable: party maintenance. I made sure the CD got changed in the player, and that it didn't rain on the expensive donated stereo. I replaced the empty chip bag with a full one, and picked up dirty cups and bottles to recycle. When the light started to wane, I moved the food and drink tables closer to the tiki torches. I made sure there were always enough mixers, and brought food items over to whatever small groups started to form. Besides sending out encouraging email messages to my committee members ("Hey, thanks for going to buy the wine. Who's on top of getting napkins?"), I think this was probably all the work I actually did for the parties.

Throughout all this, I kept getting comments like, "Katie, relax! Stop cleaning and have a drink...," "You can't possibly be enjoying yourself," and (my personal favorite) "Are you sure you don't want any help?" I didn't actually need any help, but if I'm crawling around your feet picking up cigarette butts, do you really need direction as to how you can assist me? But I digress...

At any rate, people kept telling me how guilty my supposed 'selflessness' was making them feel. When actually, I was just performing a coping mechanism which would allow me to avoid any semblance of small talk. At various points people did manage to corner me and converse, but all I could think about during those times was whether or not the keg might be running out, and if I shouldn't be getting the back-up beer out of the fridge. That sort of inattention to others makes me feel guilty. I feel like I ought to care more about what's being said than about possible empty salsa bowls. But there you go. For better or for worse, I'm more of a Martha than a Mary.

If you're still reading after that long detour, then let me apologize for not talking more about offsite specifics. Really, I'm not allowed to tell you exactly what went on. But I think the party scenarios were pretty good examples of the sorts of things you learn during the offsite training. The teambuilding activities weren't physicaly strenuous, but they did help me to understand more about how groups can work together, which group role works best for me, and how groups relate to one another within the State Department. I went in rather dubious as to how beneficial it would be, and was pleasantly surprised.

3 comments:

Mrs. Wrye said...

You? Task Driven? No.....

You know, making friends is probably important.. you may need those people later, eh? think longterm on that.

Anonymous said...

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Crawdad said...

Oh gosh yes, you certainly made me uncomfortable walking around cleaning up after people. More than anything, though, I just wondered if you couldn't be having a better time.

If only we all had mood rings (or mood shirts, for that matter) that lit up and showed "I'm just fine, thank you. Can't you see I'm a mellow green right now?" Similarly, had I seen you cornered and flashing a panicked white, well, I could've spilled something right then and there or announced "Oh my goodness, every single bowl is out of chips" and given you the diversion you would have been seeking.

Ah well. Mood rings/shirts and mandatory nametags - who knows when they'll catch on?

Anyway, this old entry made me happy to read. Happy Anniversary, too.