Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Running Diary: Attending the exotic team offsite, Part 2

What makes an offsite "exotic"? That, along with the joys of travel on this particular occasion were covered in Part 1. Here in Part 2, the actual proceedings begin and we deal with massive geographic distribution before I get left out of the fun activity.

Tuesday - Hitting the ground running

Most of the times at gatherings like this, the agenda starts early and goes pretty late in the day. If you are going to spend the money to get everybody together, you might as well get as much out of it as you can. The part that was hard about that for me was that we had a 7:30 am Eastern start time for breakfast and my body was still on Pacific time and wasn't happy about being awake at 4:30. Some sugar helped with that, but I was pretty out of it for most of the morning.

Our first real topic was to discuss performance evaluations. My 4 other peers in attendance manage a full time staff of 30 (in addition to a contingent staff of almost 70 that are managed by others) to fill out paperwork on and give feedback for on their performance the previous year. Thankfully, I was spared this task, although I did have to provide feedback on around 20 of the 30 to the appropriate manager. It was pretty easy giving confidential praises and criticisms, but it was quite another to have to plan the development of your subordinates and pass out performance grades. As such, their jobs were a lot harder than mine on this topic. Passing out those grades was especially tough for our managers because the rankings have to meet certain distribution thresholds. Not everybody can get an "A" even if everybody deserves it, that's a corporate mandate.

Moving on, we talked about our physical location problem. Our 30 people were spread across 6 different US locations, 2 European sites, and 3 low cost offices in India, Central America, and Mexico. Planning meetings with people working on different projects could be tough if they were spread all over the world. In an effort to combat that, one of the managers presented a plan to at least pair people together by logical time zone groupings and, longer term, replace people who leave via attrition in sites where we already had people. We didn't want to force moves on people so that we could co-locate them with others. That hadn't gone well in other parts of the company, so replacing people as they left on their own in the most logical places was really all we could do.

After the catered lunch, I missed my first activity. Everybody else went on a sleigh ride through the country that the lodge offers while I had to stay in the room and attend a meeting I couldn't get out of despite being in an offsite and supposedly focused on specific tasks. Sometimes, that happens. Usually it's not too bad because you just miss a part of the meeting, but here I missed out on some fun stuff.

For the afternoon, we spent time moving people around to different projects than the one they were currently assigned so we could better balance them geographically before it was time for dinner. Even in cases like this one where I really like the people I'm at the offisite with, it can be a little weird spending 8 hours locked in a room with a group of people only to have dinner with them too. It just feels like I have to be in "work" mode all that much longer. Still, the food is usually really good because the company is paying the tab and I get to have dinner conversation with real adults. Contrast that with my wife, who would be having dinner alone with a 5 year old all week while 3 dogs constantly tried to steal food off the table, and I was making out pretty good despite the extended work hours.

That's it for today, but on Thursday's big finale the highlight of the trip (the Ben & Jerry's factory tour) gets covered in Part 3.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 6:50 AM   0 comments

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