At the heart of any strong organization is a set of values that brings individuals together into a cohesive unit, a common-ground defining a team’s function that makes up the basis of a healthy company culture. Antony International Solutions, at its core, has grown around five tenets- Flexibility, Learning, Efficiency, Communication, and Transparency (FLECT). We feel that these are the principles that we strive towards, and these tenets best represent what it is that sets our business apart from traditional recruiting methodologies. In celebration of these tenets, AIS recently hosted a two-day virtual training event where we took a deep-dive into each individual tenet and really explored what each one means, not only in the context of our business, but how they affect the dynamics of our team.
This event came about amidst very strange and interesting circumstances. AIS had just hired two new team members, Haylee and Brittany. In fact, at the onset of our tenet training event, these two had yet to even begin our regular orientation process; they were coming to the event truly green. The rest of the team had previously had opportunities to attend company events in person to become more familiar with one another on a personal level. That is, the rest of the team except for me. Having been with AIS for just over a year, I was in the unique position where I was by now far from a new team member, yet I had not had the opportunity to build rapport with my teammates outside of our normal work routine.
Additionally, this event was coming off of the Covid-related cancellation of our much anticipated team training retreat, which was meant to take place in July. While our tenet training was not meant to be a substitution for the retreat, it was difficult not to make this comparison. As the event approached, I was excited, but also anxious. More than anything, I had no idea what to expect. This would be my first big event with my teammates after knowing them for over a year. What would we do? How would it go? What were our new team members like? Will this be a one-off or a recurring event? All of these questions and more circulated at the forefront of my thoughts in the days leading up to the event. In spite of mixed feelings, the event came to a boisterous start nonetheless.
Coffee in hand and groggier than I ought to be, I signed onto our first video conference just a few minutes late. As Michigan mornings grow colder with the season, it becomes more and more difficult to pull myself from the warmth of a blanket, and then again from the warmth of a steamy shower, and once more from my favorite chair next to the heater, especially knowing that my destination is not incredibly far, but just in the other room. So, tardily I arrived to discover bustling conversation amongst my coworkers as they made personal introductions to Haylee and Brittany. This was the first time many of us had met them. Needless to say, it was a bit strange meeting new colleagues for the first time right before a slightly unorthodox virtual training event, however, in hindsight, it is difficult to imagine a better way to have integrated these two into our team. Very quickly, personalities flared both from the new hires as well as our veteran team members, and camaraderie began to take seed, a phenomenon that might not have begun so soon in the context of our normal orientation process.
After introductions had been made, both formal and informal, we kicked off the event with a literal interpretation of our first tenet, “flexibility,” in the form of a video-led yoga session followed by a cheesy Richard Simmons fitness tape to the tune of “The Locomotion.” This may sound cliche, and it was, but this exercise served not only to literally shake the team awake, but the absurdity of the activity aided in calming any nerves and releasing any inhibitions that may have otherwise hindered the activities to come.
Now, we moved into the real meat of our flexibility session, which was led by our Flex Recruiting Team Leader, Melissa. As a part of this session, the team was split into pairs, and each pair was exiled to a deserted island. On that island, we were given a list of nine items to help us survive, things like a knife, a hammock, and a flashlight. We were given ten minutes to rank the list of items in order of importance for our survival. During this exercise, my assigned partner Gabie and I fairly quickly established that the knife was the most important item for survival. However, beyond that, things were more blurry. Should we prioritize matches knowing that they are consumable and that we can technically create fire without them? If we already have a knife, how important is a spear? We quickly realized that this lesson was all about fostering flexibility through the practice of negotiation. When the team reconvened to share our rankings, it was interesting to see where different duos had placed priority. One daring team had decided to prioritize items geared towards escape, whereas the rest of the team was assuming that the goal of survival would realistically mean staying on the island rather than braving the ocean. One pair had decided that it was unacceptable to sleep on the ground, so they prioritized the hammock much higher than any other team. This process of negotiation showed where it is important to be flexible based on both your personal priorities for happiness (like not wanting to sleep on the ground) and what is best for the rest of your team (like prioritizing the knife even if it means making sacrifices elsewhere).
Perspective is another aspect of flexibility that is often overlooked. To illustrate the flexibility of different perspectives, we once again broke into groups of two. This time, one team member would share a negative life experience that they have had. The other team member would then help to discover a silver lining in what would otherwise be a negative experience. This time, my partner was our president, Angela. Over the course of my first year at AIS, many comparisons have been made between my personality and Angela’s, an interesting observation from the rest of our team that would largely seem to hold true over the course of our training event. In this case, we discovered that it was rather difficult to come up with a negative experience to share because we were already in the habit of looking for the bright side of the situation. In the end, Angela shared a chain of events that led to a layoff from a company she greatly enjoyed working for. The bright side, though, was that this chain of events also led to the creation of AIS, as well as her liberation from corporate norms and expectations. I shared with her my woes of continuing a college education at a slower pace than normal, and we concluded that by taking things slow, I was not only saving myself on future debt, but I was also making time for personal and professional growth outside of the classroom, something that many college students miss out on because of busy schedules. In the end, not only did we gain new perspective, but we learned a bit about each other as well.
Our second tenet, learning, is unique from the other four in that every member of our team comes to us with a very solid preconceived notion on what learning means. Not everyone has sat down and pondered on the ideas of flexibility or efficiency, but nearly every person in America has had significant exposure to the idea of learning from a very young age. For most, learning conjures up images of a classroom, where we spend our formative years. Sometimes this association is positive, other times it can be negative. Because of this established notion on the idea of learning, our HR Leader, Pam, set out in this session to help each team member discover their preferred learning style, knowledge that can be extraordinarily useful when it comes time to develop new skills or knowledge.
We learned that there are four different types of learning styles- visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing, as well as various combinations of the aforementioned. In order to determine our own learning style, we were given a series of stressful or emotional scenarios and we were asked how we would respond to the situation. Different responses would indicate a stronger affinity with a particular learning style. For example, imagine confronting someone in a heated argument. An auditory learner will want to shout at their verbal combatant, whereas a kinesthetic learner is likely to want to slam their fists on a table during the exchange. A reading/writing learner will prefer to gather all of their feelings and viewpoints on paper or in an email before the confrontation, whereas a visual learner will want to make sharp eye contact. After tallying our answers, we were each able to analyze the subconscious cues that would indicate our preferred learning style. I personally found little consistency in my answers, indicating that I am good at learning in a variety of different ways, which is consistent with my educational experience thus far in life.
With our learning styles in mind, we then went on to discuss different venues for learning. We were asked to rank our preference out of the following- learning in a classroom, on-the-job, from life-experiences, from friends and family, or from strangers. I cannot determine whether this is shocking or not, but classroom learning was the most loathed option among the team. Only one team member preferred it, and this is from a group of people with educational backgrounds ranging from high school graduates all the way to an MBA holder (and no, our MBA grad is not the one who preferred classroom learning!) The team’s collective favorite was life experience, the general consensus being that life lessons ring the truest and hit the deepest. This is an interesting contrast to the general sentiment regarding classroom learning, where the team said that the content was often situational and shallow. Life-lessons serve to teach you to think critically and to effectively manage your mental wellbeing, whereas classroom learning generally teaches specific skills that are situationally useful. I’m not sure that I personally would agree with this sentiment, but it is interesting to consider.
Our president, Angela Antony, led our split-session on the tenet efficiency. As with all tenets, we took a few minutes to discuss our preconceived notions on what the tenet meant. The word efficiency conjures to my mind images of a large machine with many gears, gaskets, and gauges. In one end, a conveyor belt of raw materials. Out the other comes a series of finished products while the whole time, white steam puffs upwards from the exhausts of the mechanical beast as it chugs along, never flinching in the face of ever changing circumstance. As someone who has always held a fascination in industrial machinations like trains and submarines, this image came as no surprise, though it was quite unlike the more literal descriptions offered by the rest of the team.
With this quick exercise out of the way, we moved into a game of “Fact or Feeling,” where we were split into teams of three. My team was assigned the task of determining whether it was better to buy a lot of cheap clothes or fewer more expensive clothes. The caveat, though, was that every argument made had to be prefaced with the verbal disclaimer on whether it was a fact or a gut feeling. While there was no obligation during this activity to make arguments factually, it was interesting to slow down and see from where our line of reason stems. I found myself looking for facts almost exclusively, whereas one of my teammates was the polar opposite, making her arguments almost entirely from gut feelings. At the end of the exercise, we were able to decide whether we were more likely to lean on facts or feelings in everyday decision making. The lesson was that efficiency does not always come from one extreme or the other. Instinct is important, but without factoring in known facts, it will often mislead to inefficiency. On the other hand, facts almost never give the entire picture, and instinct must be allowed to fill in the gaps. Identifying our individual tendencies would allow our team members to be more mindful in our everyday decisions.
Mentally drained at this point, we had completed day one of our training event. The remainder of the efficiency portion would be completed first thing the following morning. After a good night’s sleep to recharge, the team reconvened.
To kick off Efficiency part two, we watched a video documenting the implementation of an efficiency game used by Rolf Glass to reduce the rate of broken product. While the video was a bit dry at times, the game they developed was an interesting insight into the psychology of teamwork. While there was initially monetary reward for improved performance, the increase in efficiency persisted well after the rewards had come and gone.
Finally, to conclude the efficiency portion of our training, we returned to Melissa’s desert island from day one, but this time on Angela’s terms. Once again, we were split into pairs. Last time, we simply needed to rank our survival gear based on usefulness. This time, however, scarcity came into play. We needed to claim which tools we wanted before another team did. Once a tool was claimed, it was gone. The caveat here was that a pair needed to agree on an item before they could claim it. As is to be expected, this quickly devolved into an unintelligible shouting match as each team attempted to speak over the others in a selfish race to claim the best toolset for survival. After the dust had settled, it was very clear that there was not even a semblance of efficiency in this activity. While it seems obvious that this level of chaos would not produce desirable outcomes, it did not stop the chaos when the activity started. My takeaway from this activity was that it is easy to tell everyone to work together, but it is sometimes harder to actually follow through on it. A lesson is meaningless if it is not implemented.
As president of AIS, Angela had the honor of leading two sessions rather than one. Her second session was communication. To kick things off, we took a look at a satirical example of how not to communicate, as demonstrated by the cast of Saturday Night Live. So…what went wrong? After some discussion, we identified four key failures that that caused the breakdown in communication that we had observed- dishonesty, manipulation, lack of thoughtfulness in regards to timing, and a lack of what we decided to call “tact,” that is, the individuals involved did not put much care into how they expressed their observations and feelings. With these failures in mind, it came time to consider what it would take to create more effective communication. Each team member was tasked with identifying a recent communication in their life that they thought was successful, and then to discuss why it was a success. In my case, I chose a recent coordination of a family vegetable-canning gathering with my father. My father and I, to say the least, have had a sometimes strained relationship over the years, so planning get-togethers is often a bit of an ordeal, especially in the wake of Covid. However, I classified this case as a successful example of communication. Having a particular end-goal in mind (canning some vegetables) gave us some common ground to focus on. To relate it back to the failures of the SNL skit, I was able to conduct myself with tact because of the nature of the gathering. Through this process of comparing and contrasting, we came to a deeper understanding of what effective communication meant. It is easy to look at SNL as just a funny gag, but sometimes parody gives us real, more exaggerated insight into some otherwise nuanced aspects of the source material, in this case communication.
To conclude the communication session, the team played a game of “Password.” In this game, one team member is given a password to describe in as few words as possible while the rest of the team tries to guess what the word is. The catch is that there is also a list of exclusions that may not be used. I was put on the spot a little bit here and was asked to go first. My task was to describe a beach, but I could not use the words “ocean,” “sand,” or “water.” Having no real strategy on where to start, and no precedent on how many words made a good score, I began the game with a long, awkward silence. It felt like 15 minutes as I grasped for any word to describe my assignment. It was actually closer to thirty seconds, but it felt eternal. Eventually, at a loss, I said “location.” This was met with too much specificity- “London!” “Boston!” “Florida!” Though, in a sense, Florida was not too far off, my word was obviously far too vague. My next word, “palm-trees,” which could be debated as to whether it counts as one word, immediately gave away my answer. Only two words, it seemed like it would be a difficult score to beat. Alas, though, many team members were able to do it in one. The interesting part of the activity, though, was to look at how different members of the team approached their word choice. Some pondered, careful to deliberately choose the best possible word to keep their score low. Others went for it and hoped for the best. As with everything, there is a balance to be struck. Without deliberation, your words are not as impactful. However, nobody will ever understand you if you fail to speak at all!
Our final tenet session, this time on transparency, was led by our VP of Operations, Kristin. In my personal opinion, transparency is perhaps one of the most significant ways that AIS stands out from other teams. Our transparency with one another often borders on too much. As such, this session was less about becoming more transparent with each other, and more about becoming more transparent with how we view ourselves. In our first activity, we were asked to rank ourselves from strongest to weakest on a number of qualities such as composure, integrity, creativity, and analytical thinking. The purpose of this exercise was introspection, and it was a fantastic opportunity to ponder our own self image. After the ranking was done, we were asked to share with the team. This was also a very interesting endeavor, as it allowed us insight into how our team members see themselves.
Next, we were split into pairs. This time, we ranked our partner on the same set of qualities. The obvious value here was that we were able to get insight into how our teammates looked at us. It is important to realize self-image and the image that other people have seldom match. An opportunity for this sort of insight is rare. After going through all of the previous tenets, this opportunity for introspection felt like the glue that was going to bind everything together. We were allotted the opportunity to look at our tenets in the context of our own self image, and in the context of others’ image of ourselves. This introspection is what caused real personal growth from the previous activities, and it was a great way to end the team training event.
What we learned
As I mentioned before, this training event was a completely new experience for our team at AIS, and doubly so for myself as I had yet to interact much with my team members outside of our daily grind. I really had no idea what to expect going in, and I feel like most of the team would concur. However, I was very impressed with each individual’s ability to be open and participate fully in each activity without inhibition. Special recognition definitely should go to our two newest team members, Haylee and Brittany, for agreeing to participate before they had even met the team.
Having now completed the event and returned to work for a few weeks, it is clear that I have become more comfortable with my coworkers. I feel that I have been able to come out of my shell a bit, where appropriate, and my coworkers have expressed the same sentiment to me. Not only do these tenets guide our business model, they also guide us in our day-to-day interactions with one another as well. The chance to take a deep-dive into each tenet individually certainly lent perspective into how this business came to be what it is today. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate, and I look forward to what comes next.