Wednesday 29 August 2012

What I learned as a Gamesmaker

I was a volunteer, a Gamesmaker, at the London Olympics.  I was a team member in the Entertainment Team  who organised for a variety of artists - singers, rappers, bands, poets, choirs, jugglers, guitarists, opera singers and more - to perform around the Olympic Park at Stratford. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.  I learned, more correctly re-learned, some things about organisations and behaviour at work that I'd like to share.

1. Von Moltke was right.

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke famously said that "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy".  This is spectacularly true when the plan has been made by people (however intelligent and energetic) who do not have a great deal of practical experience.  We were carefully briefed on day one and assigned to our duties, but stuff happened  - acts didn't turn up, security passes were not ready, equipment was not where it was needed - and the beautiful plans were irrelevant within minutes.  Von Moltke was right, but people who have been around the block a few times know how to plan for contingencies and how detailed a plan it's worth making.  However - see point two.

2. Intelligent, motivated people can self-organise even in a new context.

By definition the volunteers were all very motivated to be there.  A few found some of the initial chaos upsetting but many, myself included, were mildly amused and thrived on it.  We had a wide range of backgrounds and skills which was exciting and quite as asset.  Very few of the volunteers had ever worked at an event like the Olympics, and neither had quite a few of the paid LOCOG staff, but that was not a major issue.  People quickly self-selected for the roles they enjoyed and soon we were quite a high performing team, able to adapt to anything that was thrown at us.  That was a lot of fun.

3. Put enough people together in an organisation and you will get bureaucratic behaviour.

There were moments when bureaucracy raised its ugly (or is it comical?) head.  Sometimes small incidents ("there's someone locked in the disabled toilet") led not to the obvious action (try to let them out) but to walkie-talkie escalations up reporting lines and across to other teams. There were supervisors walking around with three different radios and answering mobile phones too.  Most found this annoying but some clearly got a buzz from being so "busy".  One or two supervisors have a lot to learn about dealing with people, but thankfully the vast majority were a joy to work with.  I realise now how lucky I was to work so long for Shell, where management are very competent and the culture is very respectful of people.

4. Recognition is powerful and always under done.

In my two weeks as a Gamesmaker I received more genuine recognition and thanks, both personally and in general to all Gamesmakers, than I did in my 30+ year professional career.  I really appreciated that and was lifted by it every day.  They even brought Eddie Izzard over to say thank you.
I have found recognition is also readily given in my other volunteering activities.  I do not mean criticise my previous professional employers over others, just to point out that recognition at work is hugely under done and that must have a big negative impact on productivity.

5. There is a huge pool of energetic, talented and motivated young people in the UK.

Finally, for any of you who believe the nonsense in the press about "young people today", I was absolutely bowled over by the talented, energetic, entrepreneurial young people who were entertaining on the  Olympic Park or enabling others to do so.  The UK has a bright future if we can harness all that energy and talent.