The last few days have been quite enlightening. Our offices at Talis were closed on Thursday and Friday as the entire company took part in a two day internal conference for all employees which was held at Warwick University. I’ve never worked for an organisation before that shut down shop for two days so its emloyees could learn about each other and what the various parts of the business did. Sounds surreal right? and I suppose that’s how it felt to begin with.
The conference was two days long and comprised of 26 featured presentations by colleagues from every part of the business as well as a dozen or so three minute lightning talks. There were also a number of breakout sessions where staff split off into their respective divisions and worked on discussing issues around vision, ethics and culture.
From my perspective it was hugely valuable and gave me an opportunity to listen to colleagues from other parts of the business, whom I ordinarily wouldn’t have really gotten to speak to or have ever really gotten to know – thats a failing on my part. In fact this realisation was part of the reason I did a relatively spontaneous lightning talk during which I put up pictures of cartoon characters and revealed the names of colleagues that, from my personal perspective, embodied the characteristics of each character – this was a variation of a game that Sarah often uses when she asks us to think of a character that embodies us on a good day, or when we are in a happy place, and a character that embodies us on a bad day :). The point I wanted to make though was that out of roughly 90 people in the company I could only really do that for maybe twenty: that’s how many people I felt I had enough of a rapore with, and felt comfortable enough around to be able to do that. So if we were here as a group talking about the direction of the company, our shared ethos and developing a culture then how could we do that unless we first got to know who we are. I think the point was well received, and I do believe that events like this internal conference are definitely a step in the right direction and serve as a great way of bringing us together. Oh and incidentally for those who are curious here’s the two characters that I believe reflect my good and bad sides …
On the friday afternoon, I had to give the penultimate presentation. Rob and I were asked to put together a presentation about our recent trip to WWW2008 in Beijing, and to talk about why the trip was important for the company, and for each us as individuals. Rob and I wanted the presentation to be amusing, however since Rob wasn’t going to be at the conference in person, we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. We opted to record a bunch of pre-canned videos with rob in various guises (including Princess Leia), and I had to work each of the clips in as I was talking. I think it went down really well, the first half of the talk focussed on the conference itself, the people we met formed relationships with, and the importance of that to us as individuals and the company. The second half of the presentation was about the five of us who went and what the journey meant to us a individuals and how it brought us closer as a team. I used a slideshow of photos from the trip which was overlayed with a some music ( well it was me playing my flute ), I talked about the journey we went through, and how dealing with adversity is what often brings teams, or any group of people, together. I finished with a slide that said “a journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles“. I wasn’t sure how this half of the talk would be perceived since it deliberately lacked the outlandish humour of the first half. Yet if the response I got from everyone who came up afterwards is anything to go by, then I think it was really well received.
Our CEO Dave Errington gave the final talk of the conference, and offered a very personal perspective of Talis and what it means to him. It was a brilliant talk, and quite inspired, although my heart did skip a beat at the end when he put a slide that said “the journey is its own reward”, since I had used the same quote on my final slide but removed it about half hour before I presented since I didn’t think I had enough time to explain fully what I meant.
After the conference we all headed to the venue for the Summer Ball and spent the evening eating, drinking and some people even danced 😉 it was a great way to end two days of collective thinking and sharing of ideas and vividly recall as I left the ball around midnight feeling very happy, and in many ways re-invigorated.
I spent most of yesterday recovering from the conference and the ball, and also reflecting on it all which is why I’m writing this piece. I spent some time thinking about what the conference had taught me about the people I work with as well as a few things I’d learn’t about myself. At some point yesterday evening, I was sitting and reading through some notes when my ipod randomly shuffled to a song I hadn’t heard in a very long time … and as I listened to it I realised that it epitomises the image I have in my mind of the kind of people I work with, the kind of people make up Talis, and the kind of ethos we share, the resilience we have, the “fuck off great big ambitions” and dreams we share (as Dave put it), … that something inside that is so strong …