Longyearbyen, and the dead spirit of team leadership

16 Jun

This morning from 9 to 10 o’clock my schedule says “team outing”, which I actually judged to be a rather pointless exercise. The one lesbian in our team already is very open about her sexuality, and none of the other guys would become any more interesting, if they had disputable sexual affinities. As it turned out that was not actually what Ash meant by “outing”; he had something even more boring in mind.

It was a cold day out here in Longyearbyen, a mining town in the district of Svalbard, at the Western coast of Spitsbergen. This was probably the coldest weather and shortest night that we will encounter during our cruise along Norway’s coast. Since there is not truly that much to be seen in Longyearbyen, our manager Ash selected this particular day to set up a teambuilding event, hoping to form a cohesive photo team from the sketchy remnants that Mihai handed him. It didn’t work. For so many reasons that it takes a whole blog to explain.

Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

Let’s start with the involvement of “team members” who did not want to participate in the first place. Marina in particular is so perturbed by the tensions within this department that any interaction between her and much of the rest of the gang is just another match tossed towards an already simmering flame. Our current photo lab technician revealed some of the history of those tensions to me, and I can’t quite see why Marina is still putting up with it all. In her place I would probably have skipped ships a long time ago. Yet, Ash called, so we all answered.

The whole expedition wasn’t really well planned out either. We just met in the crew bar at 9 o’clock, and left the ship together, hoping that the spirit of team’s future will pay us a visit, and bestow its magical powers upon sour pot Henry, who continues to be a real pain in the bum whenever he is asked for even the lightest flake of cooperation.

Yet, we left the ship together, and walked through the lonely streets of Longyearbyen for half an hour; without any notable incident of team psychosis along the way. At various times during the trip various people vanished into various houses to look at souvenirs, rattan chairs, or a photo exhibition. However, all good things must end, and at some point a bunch of photographers entered a coffee shop, and several others followed them. A selective few of us were standing outside, having no demand for coffee in any shape or form, and after waiting for several minutes we simply moved on. Ten minutes later Marina decided that she had sufficiently rebuilt her team spirits, and turned back towards the ship. The two of us remaining wished her well, and had a lovely walk along the coast of Spitsbergen, scavenging every photo opportunity we could find.

Spitsbergen is not actually THAT cold in spring. But tensions aborad the ABC RypMeOff chill most photographers to the bone.

Spitsbergen is not actually THAT cold in spring. But tensions aborad the ABC RypMeOff chill most photographers to the bone.

As it turns out, that was not the type of team building that Ash had in mind. When we regrouped in the photo lab for the nightly meeting our new manager conveyed to me in no uncertain terms that our absence destroyed his carefully laid out plans to reunite the photo team. Apparently that particular coffee house was the center piece of his contrivance, and everyone except for the three of us waited inside the coffee shop to celebrate the day. Well, they managed without us.

And according to Mateja the coffee did not quite build anyone’s ability to work well with others. Instead, Ash told everyone to order a beverage, and when the bill came around asked everyone to pay their own cup of brown team spirit. Suddenly the general mood in the room came a lot closer to the winter breeze that encircled the house, especially since one cup of any beverage costs a minimum of €10, if consumed in a fancy coffee house in Northernmost Norway. Overall, everyone either dislikes Ash a bit more after today’s splendid adventure, or ignores that experience as just another stupid occurrence around the ABC RypMeOff.

In summary, if you want to build your team, and you are a wealthy manager with ten times the salary of even your best-paid underlings, maybe pay for the coffee that you invite them to. Or at the very least explain your silly plot before everyone orders his day’s salary worth of beverage, at an event he does not want to participate in.

Somehow I got the feeling that Ash may rethink his decision to “organise” one of these “team building events” during every single cruise to come.


PS.: Svalbard is still worth some photos. Click here to view my gallery: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1970727829604581.1073741926.100000021481485&type=1&l=4e1aa26cf4

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