The Sky’s the Limit

This past Friday was an unusual day. To give you some context, let me first say that I work in consulting. For those of you who read that word and were still (rightfully) confused, consulting is a client-service industry where firms get work from companies to do, well, anything really. From strategy projects to technology implementations to change management, consulting as an industry kinda does it all. Different firms specialize in different niches within the industry, but as an employee, working at any of these firms usually impacts your life in the following 2 ways:

  1. You will travel a lot
  2. You will work with many different people on many different projects

Many people read the first point and get excited. True, traveling to many countries and cities on the company dime is great, but it definitely has its disadvantages (read: spending the majority of every week away from friends and family).

But this post is more about the second point. Because you work for many clients as a consultant, you are always meeting new people and developing new professional relationships. This is great for expanding your network and building your brand, and frankly, this is one of the reasons that a lot of people go into consulting. After all, a variety of experiences means a more developed network and skill set, which usually equates to a higher value put on you in the marketplace.

However, from my experience, this model is not always a positive one. When you are continuously working with new people, it can get be difficult to develop rich relationships with your existing network. Sure, you may still have the occasional email conversation or connection on LinkedIn, but how can you be expected to continue to cultivate strong bonds when you have an ever increasing number of colleagues to connect with, on top of the daily pressures of your personal and professional life? Unless you are some sort of wizard that can fit more than 24 hours into a single day, you can’t do it all.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Earlier this year, I worked with an incredible set of people on a project in New York City for a few months. It was a great project, I developed many new professional skills, and I had an amazing time with the team. However, I left that project for another client after my work was done, and as it always does, life got in the way and I lost touch with my colleagues on that team. Classic.

Last week, however, I got a call out of the blue from one of the members of that team telling me to come to Napa Valley on Friday. The partner on the project wanted to get all the members together for a team reunion to celebrate all of the hard work and hours that we put in. I didn’t get many details, but I got to Napa at 6 on Friday like I was told, and as it turns out, the partner had scheduled a hot air balloon ride for the team. All in all, the reunion was excellent. I met up with my old team and we had a great time catching up, flying 3000 feet in the sky, and spending time together in wine country.

This brings me to my point: all companies should strive to create a culture that allows for employees to build strong foundational relationships that go above the typical professional ones. Anecdotally, the relatively simple act of scheduling a hot air balloon ride allowed me to share in a memorable experience with colleagues that will inevitably improve our team dynamic and joint experiences. The partner on my project created a situation that not only helped to rekindle professional relationships, but also helped to solidify personal ones. Even though I’ve worked with many stellar individuals as a consultant, you better believe that if anyone on this team reaches out to me for help in the future, I will prioritize helping them as much as I can due to our shared experiences.

In the same way that I would help out colleagues that I have created personal ties with, companies that promote this kind of culture can also reap the benefit of a more tight-knit workforce in the form of stronger and more effective teams. When colleagues feel that they can connect on levels outside of the immediate work, this creates a safer work environment and opens up doors for long term mentorship and employee satisfaction –  key indicators for employee performance.

So whether its a balloon ride, a happy hour, or a sporting event, building in time where employees can bond outside of work will pay dividends to your organization. After all, everyone really just wants to work with people that they can drink with, or better yet, ride a hot air ballon with.

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