Travelling doesn’t just broaden the mind – it tests the team

I’ve never understood or experienced the travel bug and so don’t empathise with friends who insist on going to far-flung places to sit on elephants or climb mountain X just for the view.

As a proud and perhaps somewhat arrogant Londoner, I’ve always suffered FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when not in London and have maintained the view that it is so multicultural that I literally have the whole word on my doorstep. In some respects this is true; I speak Turkish, Urdu and French with varying proficiency due to the friends and local businesses I’ve grown up with. I regularly eat really good Indian, Nigerian, Spanish and Mexican food – without much thought or planning. And I’ll admit, I’m partial to quite a few American sitcoms.

In the last quarter of this year, I’ve had to do an inordinate amount of travelling, on the acceptance of invitations to share best practice and represent the Stemettes.

At the GES Youth pre-event for the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakesh, Morrocco

Each successive trip has stayed true to the the ‘travel broadens the mind’ quote. Each trip has taught me a little but more about life, introduced me to even more differing views of news & innovations and has introduced me to new admirers of our work. Most importantly, I’ve met new inspirations for our work.

People who are facing bigger struggles than us. People working with different sets of assumptions & constraints and therefore mindsets. The new perspective, from a different setting has added dimension & context to our work and forced me to think more differently than I already do – and I already pride myself on regularly thinking ‘outside of the box’.

Each time, I’ve returned home to my norm, spilling over with more motivation for what we’re up to. I’ve been glad to be back in Blighty but not glad to have to ‘reset’ to one way of thinking or try to explain experiences & new motivations to the team. Each time, I also feel like I’m returning to a deluge of emails almost as if partners, stakeholders and new leads are literally waiting for my plane to take off before hitting ‘Send’. Team members fall ill, invoices run late and it’s a huge game of catchup – with some balls inevitably dropping. Such is life – such is an entrepreneur’s life. For all the hassle – and gosh is it hassle – of international travel, I’ve often questioned whilst sitting on a hotel bed, whether I should really be in the office with my team, on my grind.

Looking back over the past couple of months, weeks and days, early signs say it has been worth it – for the sake of all the learning & time for reflection which I wouldn’t normally set aside. A hotel room with no wifi makes you reflect rather than research. And for someone with a fair amount on, this is good.

For my major learning objective for this year – managing a team – travel has been a  fantastic way for me to ‘be Lean’ and test my team. Physical absence has meant my team have had to step in – on networking duty, on speaking duty and also step up  – in terms of making certain decisions. Being an email/WhatsApp message away has given my team a safety net, whilst allowing them to grow in their roles and not be as dependent on me.

And so, on balance, travelling hasn’t been such a bad thing. I still don’t have the travelling bug and I’m still struggling a bit with no wifi in my Marrakesh hotel room but I am learning. For that, I am thankful. So thank you to LeadArise for finally getting me to Africa (via the US Mission to the EU) and thank you Global Entrepreneurship Week for connecting me with some fantastic new inspirations. Here’s to GEW2015 and my flight home!

Three things my new team achieved whilst I was away, without too much preparation or hand-holding

– Pitching: a team member had to pitch for desk space and convince local businesses to give us the full-time desk space that we require as we grow. She convinced 4 out of 6 and now we’re working out how best to make use of the spaces on offer.

– Managing relationships: each week we have to make decisions with partners and on the events & workshops we run. Whilst I was away there were several instances of the team taking charge and informing me of the ‘Stemette’ response to each situation after they had resolved it.

– Speaking: we were invited to partner with an event and so had to present what we’ve been up to and entice more volunteers and companies to join us. Then we had to present one of our programmes to a group of students whilst the programme lead and myself were out with the current cohort. The same team member fought her demons and spoke at both – with fantastic feedback.

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