When things go wrong does your team have your back? How well supported do you feel when the chips are down?

Lets be honest, all teams experience things going pear shaped at some point in their existence. Sometimes it’s a little pear shaped. Other times it’s seriously pear shaped and perhaps, on the odd occasion, pear shaped doesn’t even capture the situation.

Today I was meant to be at the annual conference of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. Instead I am at home, at my kitchen table, writing. To cut a long story short my flight to Belfast with EasyJet  was cancelled yesterday. At first it was delayed by 2.5 hours and then words you really don’t want to see came up on the departure board, ‘flight cancelled’. No chance of getting to Belfast today and probably not tomorrow either.

Last night I was meant to be co-facilitating a conference session with a colleague. We had been preparing for it for a long time. First of all wondering if we should suggest it, then pitching our idea to the organising committee. When it was accepted we started sending out calls for participants and writing funding applications for sponsorship of prizes. Then selecting abstracts and organising the actual event. You get the picture I’m sure. So to find out that I wasn’t going to be able to make it wasn’t exactly the highlight of my day! However, it’s what happened next that has prompted this post.

Where’s your team when you need them?

At the airport we were asked to go to a departure gate and wait. A whole plane load of frustrated, unhappy people made their way down to a vacant lounge and were joined by ONE young lady from the airline. Can you imagine being that person, the one who is told, ‘we are going to cancel a flight, there is no chance of anyone flying out with us at all today, just nip down and tell them will you’. 

She was swamped by people desperately seeking information. There was no way she could deal with it alone. She wasn’t even given a microphone so that she could talk to everyone or make herself heard. Left to try and answer as many questions as she could she physically couldn’t respond to everyone.

Hats off to her, she did her best in an impossible situation. But where was the rest of her team? Given the situation people were actually pretty calm, no one got really angry. No voices were raised and when one person started to voice their frustration it was left to another passenger to point at that it wasn’t this lady’s fault and diffuse the situation.

I am left wondering what kind of supervisor/manager feels it’s OK to send one person to deal with over 100 angry and frustrated people? What kind of team would stand by and let one of their member face this alone? What does this say about the culture within that team and the company’s policy on handling such situations?

Switch to Belfast.

A phone call to Sarah who was marvellous. Her immediate calm response wasn’t, ‘Oh how am I going to cope’ it was, ‘are you OK and don’t worry we’ll get it sorted’. Once all the chaos at the airport had calmed down I emailed Sarah the information she needed to run the session. As the hours past the response from our community became apparent. From the person at the conference centre who printed out the documentation I emailed through, to the people who dived in with offers of support it was all sorted. A whole host of people from our network stepped up. The people around Sarah wanted to let her know that they’d got her back and they had.

We are not people who work together day in day out but we are a connected community who know each other and, more importantly, care about each other and care about the community.  They knew that it was important for those who were presenting and those who were attending that the session went well – and it did. But more than that – I very much appreciated the supportive messages that I received from people sharing my frustration and letting me know that I was missed.

I have been reflecting on the stark difference between the two responses – a team who, presumably, work together day in day out being happy to let a single team member face over a 100 people on her own and a connected community who pulled together.

Is it something about one community being healthcare professionals and another a commercial organisation? Does it point to something far greater the values which underpin each community and are apparent in the way we treat each other?

When things go wrong in your team how do you respond? Do you show up for your colleagues in whatever way is possible? Do you feel that your team has your back when things go wrong? I do hope so. In the midst of all my disappointment yesterday I know how much a valued the people I’m connected with. I wonder how the lady from Easyjet felt?