In at the deep end
Shortly after joining GEC, twenty of us new-starters were thrown at a green, woody Welsh village for a week of Personal Development. We were going to be monitored undertaking varied activities, ultimately so that the company could get more out of us. Sorry if that seems a bit cynical.
If the week sounds like a cross between ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ and ‘The Apprentice,’ it’s probably because it was.
Challenges small and large
There were a few small activities and two heftier ones. We all did the small ones and were split into two groups for the others.
The activities were easier than those inflicted on the Celebs in the jungle, for instance we didn’t have to eat live insects. But some participants did get edgy due to the stresses imposed on us in a Sirr-Alan type way, not least me.
- Orienteering, in pairs
- Writing and performing a song, in small groups
- Climbing a steep local hill, everyone
Plus a few others which escaped my memory banks long ago.
- Organising every aspect of a formal dinner, including menu, writing and delivering after-dinner speeches
- Creating a play about Tam Sian Catti, a legendary local Robin Hood-type character… and leading the village’s schoolchildren in performing it to an invited audience of parents.
Tam Sian Catti
Not without a major ‘Can I actually do his?’ feeling, I volunteered to lead the play. Half a dozen voluntary story-gatherers stepped forward to extract the life of their hero Tam Sian Catti from the experts: the local schoolchildren.
It turned out there were six major events in Catti’s life. This lent itself to the creation of six individual scenes. The only ones I remember now involve a cottage burning down and something to do with a horse.
A couple of us, with children ‘assisting,’ created a fire effect from long strips of red, orange and yellow crepe paper, to be thrown over a cardboard cottage from behind at the correct point in the drama.
The pantomime horse
The children’s eyes lit up when someone suggested making a pantomime horse. Most of them wanted to make the horse but they all wanted to be the horse. The team making it did their best, but maybe underestimated how strong our equine friend needed to be to get his front and back to jointly go in one direction.
And the children needed to be coached. This was difficult – I think only one of us was a parent. The appointed team did what they could, but organising the show and the children so that the action moved smoothly from scene to scene proved a bridge too far.
But a point came where we had to launch the show… the audience was ready and waiting.
You couldn’t say the auditorium, the school hall, had the buzz of the grand opening of Cats on Broadway. There were two facilitators from the Personal Development company sitting at the back – and one lone mother sitting bravely in the front row..
An immediate problem was that the kids were shy about going on stage. The ones who did speak were so quiet as to be a fraction of a decibel above silent – or less.
Losing the plot
The upshot was that everyone lost track of where we were in the plot. My two friends in charge of the fire were stationed behind the cardboard cottage and couldn’t see when their flames were needed. In the end they chose a random moment and threw two things: caution to the wind and crepe paper over the cottage.
OK, it wasn’t in the right place in the plot, and the flames snagged on something on the way over and needed a tug from the front.
At least the audience laughed.
As I said, the children were all hyper-keen to have a go at being the pantomime horse.
This led to the one certainty in the whole production: The increasingly ragged horse would randomly but regularly appear on stage, meander blindly around for a while before meandering blindly off stage again.
Me, a leader?
I’ve mentioned my life goals already, but one of them was to run a successful business. I chose to lead the play because as a businessman I’d need leadership skills. And as yet I didn’t have them.
After each event we’d gather together and give feedback.
I confessed to the group that the main reason I volunteered to lead the play was that I wanted to be a leader, even though I wasn’t naturally one. But one group member, Cath said, “I don’t think it makes any difference if someone is trying to be a leader or is a natural. This week Marc is the only person I’ve listened to.”
This was better feedback than I could possibly have expected.
The formal dinner: The best speech
The food was good, the table decorations were snazzy, the layout of the tables was just right. The organising team had done a good job.
All that remained were the three speeches.
I don’t remember the first two being particularly good or bad, but a guy called Dave, something of an outsider over the week, gave the last speech. He brought the house down with a jokey awards ceremony.
The biggest laugh came when Dave awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise to James, one of the facilitators… for making the tea on Wednesday morning.
More soon! Best wishes, Marc