Forget trust games, try an office flood.

There’s a saying in our industry that a good crisis should never be wasted.  I like it because I think it’s true. There is always something to learn from surviving what I’d like to describe as a dead set poo-shower . Can I say poo-shower on a family show?  Too late…

Perth Flood Image Courtesy sassamifrass/Flickr
Perth Flood Image Courtesy sassamifrass/Flickr

As I write, it’s a couple of days since the biggest storm in decades literally smashed its way through Perth.

For our team, Perth’s’ big storm created a “physician, heal thyself” scenario when we found ourselves surrounded by rising floodwaters.  I found myself cursing the fact that we didn’t have a gtmedia Dinghy.  Crisis? Yeah. I think it’s fair to call it a crisis.

Let me set the scene.  Jess and I were on way back to the office, a journey usually about 15 minutes long. The sky was black and the conditions turned so dangerous so quickly that we decided to pull over and sit it out in a car park.

The rain and hail were horizontal, the wind, terrifying it its ferocity. I looked up at the power lines next to the car park and saw them swinging out of control like an alcoholic chimp during happy hour.

I was nervous. I phoned the office. No answer. I phoned the mobiles. No answer.  Cue “mild concern”.  I then get hold of Dorothy Brogna, normally unflappable advisor. Her voice is edged with panic.

“GT, we’re flooding…it’s past my ankles and we can’t stop it. Newcastle Street is flooded and the water has already reached our front veranda (about half a metre above the street level).  Lauren and I are trying but we can’t stop the water from coming in and it’s coming in so fast.”

A thousand things raced through my mind. Wanting them to be safe. The winning combination of water and electricity. Not wanting to lose my server. Several thousand dollars worth of new furniture which had been delivered that morning.  The artwork.  Client records. The fact Jess and I were stuck half way across town with ho hope of getting back in a hurry.

And then something very strange happened. I felt calm. I WAS calm. It was like I had started to channel Ghandi (minus the accent).

Okay DB, stay calm. Turn off the power at the mains. Lift all the machines and the server on to tables.  Just do what you can. We’ll be there as soon as we can. Whatever you do, nothing is worth risking your safety.

My voice seemed to calm, hers. Or at least it did in my mind.

Jess and I crawled through a dozen failed intersections on our way back to the city. We talk about chaos a lot in our office. Now we know what it really means. It was bedlam on the roads and two days after being t-boned in a three way smash, exactly what I needed…yep, it was JUST the ticket.

From memory it took us about 45 mins to travel the 4kms or so to Northbridge.  The office was awash, as was our entire block.  We knew there was a third front on its way and desperately wanted to get as much stuff sorted while we could. I wanted to get my team on the road while the skies were relatively clear so they could make it home before round three.

Let me just say right now that one of things I love most about gtmedia and our team is our love of the absurd, our ability to laugh at the world when things get a little overwhelming.  As we sloshed from one room to the other, moving our server, securing documents, we laughed. We had only just moved into this new office. Paint job? – New. Carpets ?  New. Furniture – delivered that very morning. Get the drift?

We laughed at the fact that we’d never forget when we moved in. We laughed at the fact that the backpackers from across the road didn’t offer to help anyone, but went berserk with joy, sploshing around what we dubbed “Lake Newcastle Street”.  We laughed at the fact that our carpet would undoubtedly smell like feet within 24 hours. We were right. And we laughed and cursed our lucky bamboo plant, snug and dry on the window sill. Not so lucky Bamboo after all.

We laughed as we used our ingenuity to prepare the office for another downpour.  I will forever be grateful that I was OCD enough to keep my stash of bubble wrap from the old office.  We used that, the plastic thingos that go underneath your office chair, cardboard, painting drop sheets and gaffa tape (ahhh gaffa tape!) to block the back doors and stem the tide.

We did what we could by 7.30, sending  DB home first as she lived the furthest away. Lauren was next.  Jess and I locked up and took off last.

Looking back, it was terrifying but what happened to us was nothing compared to the majority of storm victims. What’s more we came out of it so much stronger.  Sorry about the cliché but it is true.

The next morning, we met for a “post flood” breakfast.  We debriefed, discussed and prioritised what needed to be done that morning. We laughed some more and to be honest, we felt pretty proud of ourselves.  When the world, OUR world went pear shaped, we changed gears and we managed. Better than managed. We took care of business and kept ourselves IN business at the same time.

So, what can you learn from our experience?  Crisis 101…

  1. Worry about your people first. No exceptions.
  2. Worry about what you can control and change, not what you cant
  3. What operational message do you need to send to your clients and stakeholders?
  4. What must you do to keep business running?
  5. Social media cannot be ignored.  Twitter via our mobiles was our best source of information that night.

We will change the way we do some things as a result of this week, but I can promise you one thing. No need for trust games at our next strategic planning day.  No need for us to stand in a circle, cuddle and sing Kumbyah.  Perth’s big storm was the real deal.  Thanks Mother Nature, our team is built.

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