Twenty-two years ago, I traveled to Orlando to facilitate team-building activities for a client whose business mystified and overwhelmed me. Two people I had only met once assembled a team of twenty-five or so, all of whom more experienced, competent, and clued-in than I. I remember meeting people from Colorado, Chicago, New England, Atlanta, the UK, and more. Names, strongly-held (and loudly-expressed) opinions ping-ponged in my head – and that was before we even met the client! I was wide-eyed and way outside my comfort zone!
What I didn’t fully understand was that the folks who hired me were building the program almost from scratch. And that their anxiety must have made mine look ghostly pale. Though Jim and Miriam relied on their tried and tested activities and team-building processes, the client expected perfection as they rolled out this brand new initiative to entice students to join their organization. Stakes were high – for my new friends as well as the client! Oh, and by the way, the program would be held outside. In Florida. In August. And Miriam was seven months pregnant.
Stories about that first year’s program are legion – the personalities, the lack of sleep as last minute details got ironed out, the heat, the student intern who failed to heed the closed-toe-shoe-requirement and broke her toe, the air compressor that Molly ran over with a golf cart, the bill for dinner after we finally loaded the last of the equipment, little Eidan in Miriam’s belly.
But those stories were only the beginning. Yesterday I returned home from the twenty-second annual program with this client, the twenty-second time I’ve had the superlative experience of being on Jim and Miriam’s team. Much has changed in those twenty-two years. We began with three hundred conference attendees. This year there were three thousand! Activities have been invented, re-designed, refined, and streamlined. Oh, and somewhere in the mid-2000s, persistent rain and storms drove the program indoors where everyone showed greater attentive capacity and happiness – and where we’ve been ever since. Hip-hip-hooray!
We rarely take time for photos so my collection is dated. Some of us look a lot younger here than we do after twenty-two years!
Our team has undergone change too. We’re now a group of thirty-five who have clearly-defined roles for three basic functions – training, logistics, and safety. ‘Little’ Eidan – scraping the clouds in the neighborhood of six-five – reminds us that we’ve been together – one week a year – for his entire lifetime. And while strongly-held opinions continue to abound on our team, mutual respect and regard temper our expressions. Most of us have now been on the team for ten or more programs; a few new faces join us most years. Standards are high, for performance as well as what I’ll call ‘fit.’ Disturb the smooth flow of our team – in our work with the client or with each other as we travel between hotel and venue, dining, and play time after our long work days – and you could get voted off the island!
Some of us have declared ourselves ‘The Divas’ of the team. As we define the term, divas are strong women with a presence. We influence others not just by what we do, but by who we are – and the fact that we have been there from the first. So if you should see a she-who-must-be-obeyed air about us, we’re okay with that! We’re happy to give lessons in diva-dom, but we’ve yet to hand out a diploma. We are selective, you see – about diva qualifications and about whom we see as a good fit for our team. We exert our hard-earned influence with Jim and Miriam (privately of course) for good!
But though we divas are also not shy about claiming credit for our discernment in team members, we must also pay homage to Jim and Miriam’s outstanding abilities to find and gather diverse, skilled, and interesting people to ‘try out’ for our team. We hail from all over the US and Mexico and sometimes even further where our work in the other fifty-one weeks of the year makes coming together a brain-bending festival.
We also must honor Miriam and Jim’s skills in gelling our diverse group into a cohesive and intentionally appreciative community centered around a shared vision and fun. Jim, Miriam, and Eidan are the royal family of our extraordinary one-week island. Like generous and caring royalty, they work harder and longer than their loyal subjects while doling out an abundance of collective and individual gratitude toward those in their employ. And we return the gratitude in truckloads for the vast privilege and joy of our working, learning, and loving experiences together.
As I reflect on the many I’ve been lucky to call my friends, only a handful have outlasted or approached the depth I feel for the twenty-two-year friendships forged with Jim, Miriam, my fellow divas, and inhabitants of our spectacular island. How lucky and massively thankful I am to have you all in my life! I may only get to spend one week a year with you, but I hold you all close to my heart during each of the three-hundred-sixty-five days till I get to see you yet again! I’m already looking forward to seeing you all again in 2019!