Looking at the gold plated sign that read “SHARKS” in big fancy letters and sipping my coffee, I remembered how hard it was to get here and yet easier to make the decision. “You wanna know why I chose Sharks instead of Elite-W” I had tried to explain to the whole team, especially to Dev, who had left the hall after I announced that we were going to Sharks for our project. “I know why, it’s because you lead the team and you wanna prove to all of us that it’s only your decision that counts”
I had never seen Dev so angry before. We were to research on the topic -”Working as a team” for our final year project. The professor had randomly handed out folded cheats to each team and ours read “Food and Beverage industry”. After reading out loud from my cheat, the professor had given me 3 options of well known hotels – Elite W, Sharks and Northies. “Elite-W” is a top class rich mans hotel and you even get to see famous celebrities if you are lucky enough. “Sharks”, on the other hand, is pretty good, located at the heart of the city, and very happening. Northies – Lots of people’s favorite location, but if I go there for five straight days in a week, I can remember each one of the customers by their names – the same regular people every single day.
“I was not trying to prove anything to anybody; my decision is for the team and only for the team. We were never given a chance to discuss among the team for our choices were we?” There was a long silence as I said those words and it needed breaking. “I had to make the decision and nobody can get angry at me before listening to me.” I could notice the color of Dev’s face slowly changing back to its original pale brown which was bright red a moment ago. I actually had a good feeling about this anger; it tells me in a way that I don’t have a single slacker in my team. Everybody was staring at my face as I continued “Nothing goes wrong in Elite W, its always perfect. If we go there, we will never know what goes wrong while working in a team, or how to handle unplanned situations. “Sharks”, on the other hand, is located at the center of the city, so there’s always something exciting and new going on there. There are always lots of people in Sharks, and yet every thing seems to be so well managed, don’t you guys agree? And for Northies, I would’ve opted for the local pub next door than going to Northies.” I could tell by looking at their eyes that they liked my idea, and slowly I started hearing “let’s do it” and see small grins on their faces. “As I can pick on of you guys to come with me for the tour to Sharks, I have picked Dev” I had said, and there he was in front of me, organizing our plans for the day.
Dev and I planned for each one of us to focus mainly on one area of the hotel. We agreed upon me looking over the bar area while Dev focuses on the bistro, and switching places from time to time in case it gets boring. As we stepped inside the hotel, Mark, the manager came to us and introduced himself. We explained to him how we want to work on our research for the day and asked if any of our plans would affect their regular routines. Mark assured us by explaining that all of this had already been discussed with our professor and that it wouldn’t be any problem for them to assist us in our research. We both moved to our designated area, me to the bar and Dev towards the bistro, as we thanked Mark for volunteering to help us in our research.
I realized I had never been to a bar this early in the morning because no bar I had ever been to, smelled this nice. The chairs were well aligned, everything so clean, a thin layer of ice just forming on the shiny beer taps, everything looked so fresh and neat. “I will introduce you to Lee; he is our special bar-man. He asks too many questions but don’t let that bother you, he is a hard worker. He will show you how things get done here behind the bar. I think he will be a good help for you guys.” Mark assured as we moved towards the other end of the bar. As he introduced me to Lee, Mark boasted how good a worker Lee was, but also mentioned that Lee was a bit lazy because he always comes late to work. ”And before you go tonight, you can always thank Lee like this, he likes it” Mark said bending slightly to show a “Chinese bow”. Mark left the bar with a loud laugh. I wondered if that was even funny. His comments about Lee being lazy were not at all constructive. ‘Lee is a hard worker but because he comes late to work he achieves less than X’ would have at least motivated Lee to come early to work. He could have even sat down with Lee and worked out the solution together.
On our coffee break, Lee also mentioned that the Chinese bow Mark was talking about, was a gesture of respect towards the other in his culture, and that it hurts his feelings when Mark makes fun of them. Lee went all hush-hush as Mark approached towards the both of us. “Enjoying your coffee guys?” Before I could comment, Lee started “Mark, Line 1 tap is fuzzy”. Mark replied spontaneously “Work with the other lines for now, the technicians will come and fix it in the afternoon as always, that’s what we pay them for.” On this Lee claimed that he could fix it by draining the pipes and reconnecting them back, but Mark was not very happy to try his solution. “We don’t want to try anything new and compromise with the quality of any of our items. I am not prepared to loose customers for silly experiments.” Mark left the room with those comments. By now I had the impression that Mark was somewhat impractical. There is always room to try something new. If you don’t try new techniques, you are always left with the same old boring process that might stop working soon in the near future.
I was having fun working with Lee, sharing about culture, work environment and all different things. At one time I thought Mark was right, Lee does ask too many questions, but as I shared more with Lee I found out that Mark was wrong on this too. I realized Lee was a learner and his craving for learning made him ask so many questions. If only Mark realized that, he could change their views towards each other.
3 pm in the afternoon, and everything seemed to be running very smooth. “You wanna switch places” I asked as I saw Dev coming towards the bar. We talked for a while about the hotel and its staffs, and I introduced Dev to Lee and moved towards the bistro area while Lee showed Dev around the bar. A man on all white was busy instructing his team as I walked into the bistro. ‘That must be Bob, the head chef Dev was talking about’ I thought. Bob was planning on his staff break times, tallying them with the dinner rush hour. Late-Lunchers had filled the bistro and it was getting quite busy. What I liked about Bob’s team was that all of them were involved in their job and enjoying themselves as if there was no rush, yet they were getting things done so fast. Bob had also convinced Mark that every 3 months he switches a willing member of his team to the bar and pull a willing member from the bar to the bistro. I thought it was a very good idea, a wise switching and changing of work environment is always good, no matter how small the change is. Of course you can not change a chef with a barman but you can always switch a bar hand with a kitchen hand. Such change also shows that the managers are actively participating for the employees and makes them feel that their effort is recognized.
6 pm and the dinner rush hour is still an hour to go. Bob wanted to take a 15 minute break and I sat next to him. Mark joined us a minute later. Bob started the conversation with Mark asking if any new plan for the hotel was on the way. Slowly their conversation went up to what the hotel owners have decided to change in a few months time, pretty critical information. I really liked Bobs approach for gathering information; he could really use that information for the good of himself and the whole team. Although those conversations may sound like gossip to some and they may not want to be involved, it isn’t exactly just that. The whole organization, any organization, is a team, so everyone needs to know and be aware of what goes on in the company. By gathering such information, you can always predict on the next logical step and always have information ready beforehand, or at least a scheduled defense ready for it.
At 7 30 pm a group of approximately 30 people startled all hotel staff, and got them running around in a haphazard fashion. Bob’s team got busy preparing meals and the bar team were running around in confusion. ‘Do you have more staff joining in for the night shift?” I asked Mark. He replied as if regretting, that the same number of staff was enough every other day, so he didn’t bother if two of his staffs took a sick leave that night. I could see the frustration in Marks face as he said “I don’t understand. Where did all these people come from at once?’ I was helping Lee at the bar and so was Mark. “Don’t you know? Elton John is performing in the city hall tonight?” I replied shocked at how Mark could have possibly missed that information. Mark was almost starting to swear in frustration “Who gives a damn about Elton John, I don’t even like him.” I didn’t find his comments impressive at all, not because I am a big fan of Elton John but because of the whole situation. “Well if you had liked his music, you would have at least been prepared for tonight, wouldn’t you?” I could tell Mark hated me at that point. When you are working as a manager, any of your personal opinion should not affect your work. He should’ve been aware of the situation, should’ve had the information ready before hand and should’ve had a planned strategy ready for it too. Things go wrong not because they have to go wrong, but because you never thought about what has gone wrong. I pitied Mark as more people came into the hotel and he started making phone calls to the workers who were on leave, all in vain though. I gave a last glance at the bar; everyone was running, trying to shorten the queue of people waiting for their drinks. The tap line one was not functional, the technicians did not show up that afternoon and I am sure Mark regretted not letting Lee try to fix the line. The rush hour was not going to end for the next three hours for Mark and his team.
We left the hotel, unsure if we had gathered useful information. I can at least say I would’ve learnt more, looking at my own team – organized, no confrontation or clashes with each other; yet everyone gets to have their say. I wondered if Mark and his team would be interested for a tour in our university. A group is not just a bunch of people sitting together but co-operation between each other is what forms a group. And that which keeps the group together, its resources, skills, risks, and goals together and organizes and prioritizes each of the components wisely, that is the foundation of management. Management is gathering information, planning and picturing the road towards a goal and taking a step back, thinking over the whole picture and then taking two steps forward. After that night at Sharks, my definition of management had changed. I define management as being aware and well informed of the situation and the consequences of the next logical step, taking a deep breath and using common sense, never drifting from the pre-designed road towards any goal.