24 March 2014
This time last Monday I was setting up for the first of my two days of workshops in Tripoli.
Two of my colleagues had flown out earlier and had run day one of the event on Sunday and another colleague was to join us on Tuesday evening to do the final day-and-a-half.
The trip was a joy on many levels, but especially so because of the quality of the people involved, and that came on many levels so, in no particular order, here is their contribution.
The team on the ground in Libya sorted out the venues and logistics and was immaculate in its preparation and execution. I will not gloss over the security issues, nor that these can change by the hour, but the whole thing was carefully risk assessed and there were alterations to plans made quite late in the day as the risks changed. At all levels things were managed and communicated with efficiency so that while we were aware of the security issues we were not troubled or distracted by them.
At the event the organisers, hosts and support team were also top-notch and I would have been proud had they been my team. Everything that was needed to make the event work was done and the contract catering was superb.
The delegates were a mixed group of academics and administrative people from the university community, together with representatives of the ministry concerned with higher education. As anyone who has worked with technical specialists and administrative people will know, they frequently do not get on within their own organisation and can be a volatile mix, but here there was a common purpose that rose above partisan lines and the contribution to the event that the group made will stand them in good stead; the more you put in, the more you get out.
My colleagues on the trip were also outstanding, for we had to gel as a team on the ground in Libya. The advance pair had met before, but although I had spent an hour in a coffee bar with them, we were otherwise strangers - and the final member of the quartet flew in not having met any of us. It speaks volumes that our audience believed that we had worked together for some time, and the pleasure of working with seasoned professionals who can seamlessly put on that kind of show is a real treat. The work of one of the team in pulling us together and getting us there was a fine example of a cool head under pressure.
My final mention goes to the simultaneous translation team, for few of the delegates had any English and I have no Arabic. Our slides had been translated, so what appeared on the screen could be read by our audience (but not by us) and the success of the four-and-a-half days was entirely in the hands of the simultaneous translation team; their contribution to the success of the event was crucial.
When you are working with top-class people, regardless of what their contribution is, it spurs you on to give your best; not to compete with them, but not to let them down. That is one of the great things about a winning team - the synergy it can create.
I am, as may be apparent, on a high from this trip and I have learned to savour such successes, but I have also learned that there is a time to put them into the treasured memory box and move on. There is an saying that you are only as good as your last result; I have come to believe that I am only as good as my next one, for there is another adage that pride comes before a fall and in two weeks' time I will be in China for the first time and facing a new set of challenges. The triumphs of Tripoli will mean nothing to the team in Tanggu, so it will be a clean slate to start from. I may have been hired on my reputation, but I still have to deliver - and that is what faces us all; each day is a new one and we have to go out and do our best.
As Martin Luther King put it; "If a man is called to be a street sweeper he should sweep the streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all of the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well' ".
And there's the rub, for not only must I sweep my streets to the best of my ability, I am dependent on those around me sweeping theirs well too. In Tripoli we left the streets spotless, so to speak, and I shall be taking a new broom to China, Hell-bent on giving my best.
John Bowen is an FM consultant