In my spare time I do a bit of sport, I enjoy swimming, riding my bike and the odd bit of running 😉 and so I thought the title of my next blog post might attract the attention of some of my triathlon friends.
I have often compared the work that I do and the relationships that I end up building with colleagues to that of riding a bike. The project managers, community organisers and activists that move things forward for us within organisations like Equal Education are the ones who are doing the pedaling – there job is to constantly push and pedal forwards ensuring that we move. As an operations manager handling the administration and finance – me and my team are there to apply the brakes!
We wouldn’t be able to ride without each other… if there wasn’t a group of people or an individual who was constantly pedaling forward we would never go anywhere and never achieve anything but without any form of system, process, planning or administration (the brakes) we would have long ago gone crashing into something or ridden straight off a cliff and into the sea!
I find that this analogy becomes particularly relevant during times of high stress which for Equal Education happens when we are preparing for and running big events. Be it a large march for 15 000 people, a small March for 2 000, a National Congress, a Summit for Quality Education, a picket outside a courthouse, a camp or even a mass meeting for our larger membership; the ‘pedal-break’ phenomenon seems to come into play with vigorous amounts of pedaling and equally stringent breaking being necessary to make the event happen. What becomes important during these times of chaotic cycling is to communicate and continue working together to ensure that nobody goes flying over the front of the handlebars.
EE has just shown its National strength for the first time. On Monday the 17th of June 2013 we marched to Parliament in Cape Town with 1500 learners from various township and some suburban schools across the Western Cape plus partners and friends. Simultaneously we marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria with 1500 youth from areas around Tembisa and Kwa Thema and partners and friends in and around Gauteng. On Tuesday there was a picket outside the High Court in Bisho in the Eastern Cape.
3 events in 2 days in 3 different provinces
Quite a feat and quite a logistical and administrative nightmare (with some interesting aftermath that I will save for another blog)
And yes… we were all pedaling and breaking with furious intensity!
The question I found myself asking this time around, now having had 4 years of experience in these types of events was how to make the ride a little smoother. Perhaps again it is worthwhile comparing it to a triathlon. I have recently completed my first full Ironman event. The training in the lead up to race day has to be slow, meticulous, planned out and very disciplined. You need to stick to your training plan, make sure that you eat properly and get enough sleep. The more you follow the correct process the more prepared you will be for the day of the race. However, when race day comes you have one shot to give it all you’ve got and on those days you have to trust your mind and body to know what do, to use what it has learnt during the training so that you can let go.
Building organisations and systems have to follow the same kind of discipline in the early stages and that discipline needs to flow throughout your team, from the very top right out and through to your membership. Everyone must be taught how the system works and given opportunity to practice it. During the months of preparations it is vital that we adhere to the policies that have been set out because as ‘race day’ approaches and you start to panic, running out of time to do your training and stick to your routine we are going to have to let go a little bit and trust in the preparation that has been done and the foundation that we laid before.
This is particularly pertinent when it comes to budgeting and spending. Inevitably as the event gets nearer unplanned expenses start to creep in and the closer we get to ‘race day’ the more unavoidable those expenses become. If something happens to your bicycle right before a race that you have spent 6 months training and preparing for, you are going to spend whatever money and time it takes to fix it and make sure that it is ready for you on the day. Likewise, in the final week before an event it is too late to be saying ‘no’ to additional expenses because often that decision will end up hampering the success of the day, the budget has to allow for contingencies so that these kinds of crises – which WILL come up – are less of a stress on the whole process.
I don’t want this to be an ultra-distance blog post so I think I may leave it here for today. I hope that those reading this will continue to ride their bikes, whether they are braking or pedaling or fulfilling some other vital role in their own organisations I guess the message I want to give is as follows:
Work together. Train people on the processes and policies that you have in place, make sure they understand them. Invest this time in the very early stages of the event planning – not at the peak crisis points, it is too late and ends up being more of a ‘fight’ than a learning opportunity.
2. Plan for a crisis
3. Plan some more!
Make sure to learn from your mistakes so that you can move on and continue to perform at your peak. Evaluate.
For most of us, it isn’t about winning Ironman but about crossing that line in one piece. Don’t let the week before ruin your base and all of your hard work, let go and trust in your preparations so that you make it down that red carpet at the end with some tears of joy on your face.