The best part of working
by Philippe Barbe
04 Aug 2021
Over the past 30 years, I’ve worked with a lot of people.
Sometimes, just a short interaction of a few hours with people I’ve not met before, and will likely never meet again. Who are they? I have no idea. I’ve never even seen some collaborators and now that many things are remote, I’m working daily with people whom I’ve not met in person.
Other times, years of collaborations have transformed an unknown person into a friend of, well… 30 years… someone who I’ve known longer than my own children and many other relatives.
Sometimes I work with internal teams for a well-defined duration. Other times with consultants who come and go.
Sometimes I work with people who live in the same city, other times with those in different time zones or continents.
Projects are launched. Innovation takes place. Products are being created. Ideas become reality. Progress is made.
New work is slated as we project ourselves into the future. Based on what we accomplish today, four years from now we will have this or that capability. The collective force of our talents lets us envision a different future where something new will be available. It carries hope and purpose.
Team members chime in with ideas. We discuss. We argue. We disagree. We agree on the path forward.
We are talking daily. Beginning of the day call… end of the day call… a problem arises, mid-day call.
So much video-conference interactions!
End of project.
Now I’m seeing smiles on my screen. Smiles of satisfaction for the work done, for what was accomplished.
An engineer is rightly proud of what he built and I admire the talent of this person who could be my son. I send a note of acknowledgment for his good work in which I find myself sharing a bit about who I am. The age difference makes some interactions more personal. I’ve “made it” and I want this talented young person to “make it” as well. There is great fulfillment in giving back, helping and hoping for a better future for others.
Now a new team and I have another team leader to interact with, who I’ve never met and don’t know. First call. First impression. Seems a fine person. More interactions. Impression validated.
A team member cannot explain things well. We work to clarify… reword… rephrase. A full page of complicated documentation becomes 10 lines as complexity is reduced to simplicity. Now, what previously took hours to understand, the next person will understand in a minute, allowing them to go further, faster on this project. Another form of altruism.
Understanding is gained between us as together we accomplished something of value.
More calls with the team leader. After a few days, we start to share a little bit about ourselves. A city abroad connects us as we discover we both have ties there. Why are we even talking about this city? Simple curiosity about others or are we just being nosy? Maybe. But that shared experience also connects us, and in doing so, makes working together easier.
More presentations. Too many presentations! PowerPoint fluff mixed with a low percentage of useful information. We need to do better. Let us initiate a new way to share information. It is new. It is hard.
We write. Writing is hard. Writing with someone is intimidating if you have never done it. You are there, with someone you do not really know, and you have to express your thoughts, how you think of a problem, argue on the words, admit that you do not understand. Sure, you did the work, and yet have hard time explaining it. There is something uncomfortable about it.
But the small setting, the one-on-one, makes it a little easier. Progress is made. Well, this is not too bad. What was intimidating now becomes quite interesting and we derive some pleasure in making our thoughts clearer. And because this complex system that we are building is now about our thoughts, that brings us closer.
We all need to be more in sync. A lot of things need to happen. More meetings.
What should we do about this issue? We throw out ideas. Some are bad. Some are ok. It is getting better. Let us think it over. We will teleconference again tomorrow.
We did not get it right. Still no decision. More thinking is needed. Let us think more and reconvene.
Sleeping on it and an early morning jog prove to be good advisors. We reconvene. Here’s a possible solution. Should we go for it? We go for it. My idea, his idea, her idea… combined, become our idea and that brings us closer.
Now there is more to our calls than just work issues. Personal situations come to the surface… spouse, children, siblings, parents. We share our longing to see our relatives.
We see the end of this project. No more issues to resolve! This last meeting was more relaxed. Was what this team built ever going to work? Yes it does! The team is relieved. Some see what has been accomplished. Other see what remains to be accomplished. Some see an end, others a beginning. All see progress. We are all happy. Now the meetings are less about work, more about us. Should we meet face-to-face?
This team leader I did not know two months ago is now someone with whom I have an emotional connection from our shared share experience. We will remain in touch. Our travels will likely take us to the same city somewhere in the world where we will meet for or lunch during a layover.
We will not be able to share as much about it (corporate confidentiality) but we will share more about ourselves as friends now. We hope we will work together again. Our joint future is no longer about this project. It is about our own lives.
Why are we doing this?
Certainly, looking back at where we started and what we set out to accomplish an impressive amount of progress has been made.
Yes, the work is done, which certainly matters for our companies, and certainly matters to us, partly because they reward us with money and esteem.
While our collaboration on this project itself is a singular event, it also launched a new part of our professional lives where we now have something in common.
The real and best part of work is the human connection created between us that lasts long after the project ends.