June 11, 2013

It's the Little Things You Do

I've been thinking lately about how, more than the big moments, I have a tendency to remember and treasure small moments.

Moments like: once, at lunch, I was trying to remember my New England geography (and failing miserably) and asked my coworker, "What's halfway between New York and DC? Connecticut?" And her expression of disbelief and despair was perfect.

Moments like: one afternoon I watched the company's Ops guy stave off a headache while in hour 2 of what promised to be a continuing, increasingly frustrating call. Knowing he loved dogs, I pulled up the most adorable photograph of a golden retriever pup I could find and made it fullscreen on my laptop. Quietly, I carried my computer over to him, made a shhh gesture, and opened the cover. The size of that smile made my day.

Moments like: early on in my tenure with one of my positions, one of my teammates saw his project effectively restructured without his consent, and was (understandably) upset about that. Knowing his love of chocolate, I popped out of the office during the lunch hour and swung past my favorite chocolatier and picked up an assortment of sweets for him, ganaches and pralines and caramels, in milk and dark. I remember handing him the bag before our daily roundup, and I recall how surprised and touched he was by it. All eight of us sat at our big table, feet propped up on our little desk cabinets, and one of my colleagues commented on how we were kind of a family. At that time, when that team had felt so deeply isolated from every other functional team in the enterprise, that meant a lot.

It's hard to pinpoint why these specific moments have stayed with me through time. It's not like they were particularly game-changing in the course of my work. And there's so many more moments that I didn't mention -- playing catch in the old office, being compared to a small boat by a colleague (in a flattering way, to be clear), trying on sample hats, karaoke nights at this horrible dive in Chinatown, dancing at holiday parties, terrible jokes while playing Apples to Apples, sinking the clutch shot in a game of beer pong, the list goes on -- that are equally mundane or minute in the course of a life. And yet, those are the moments that meant the most to me. Just like I always enjoyed walking to the train with my colleagues. Not for the conversations, but simply because it was.

I guess the biggest thing these have in common is how they instilled a sense of camaraderie in me with the people I worked with. I came to enjoy spending time with these people -- we were, after all, specifically chosen to be part of a really awesome enterprise with a mission we all believed in. In learning about and bonding with my colleagues, I felt more loyal to the enterprise and I worked harder and better for the company. While I went along with the teambuilding activities that were occasionally structured for us, I don't remember those as clearly as I do having a drink with an English colleague. At one point, he turned to me and out of the blue said, "You know what? You're pretty awesome." That single line, more than anything.....it meant a lot.

I know in the U.S. it's generally considered a major faux pas to assume that your colleagues are anything more than simply transient types who work with you and nothing more. But for a smaller organization, that kind of attitude isn't really possible. If you love your work, you're going to be working with and around these people a lot. A lot. You have to trust them, and in the course of doing that, you're going to get to know them.

Maybe I'm an odd duck, but: in coming to trust my colleagues, those small moments, the tiny gestures, the downtime and the quiet in-between time, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it expressions of consideration, they meant the most to me. Startup life means work is more than just clock in, clock out, collect a cheque; the company is a community, especially when the team is still small. When each person demonstrates the best of their humanity, the company (just as with any community) is stronger for it.

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