Last week I went on my first Away Days with my job. All of our offices from around the world – London, New York, San Francisco, Mexico and Sweden – came together for four days and stayed at an eco retreat called Embercombe in Devon.
It came at an unusual time. The day we arrived was the day after the US Election results. And, quite unsurprisingly, we were all in a bit of shock and sorrow. Especially our American teams. But, actually, being in the middle of nowhere, with extremely limited connection to the outside world, was a blessing in disguise.
Our way of thinking at Futerra is “Imagine better. Make it happen.” and what a year we’ve had to imagine better for! The nature of our job is sustainability, finding ways to help our countries, our people, our world to thrive and be the very best it can be. It’s huge, important thinking.
The Away Days were a time for us to all be together, showcase work from each office, have thinking sessions, doing sessions, and plan what we can achieve next. And, interspersed through all of this was fancy dress nights, ‘no small talk’ dinners, an epic dance off, fire pit chats…and lots of drinking.
It was intense, (one exercise was staring into a partner’s eyes for six minutes without talking) hilarious, exhausting and totally rewarding.
I’ve only been at Futerra for a little over two months now, and there is still so much I have to learn. I don’t have an experience or background in sustainability, but I was hired for my way with words and penchant for storytelling.
So for me, this time was such a good space to learn. The work each office showcased was phenomenal, beautiful and totally inspiring. On the second day though, I got quite stuck. We had a session led by our two co-founders on building new narratives. “Amazing! I’ve got this!” I thought. But, alas, the narratives were for a part of sustainability I know nothing about. They were for audience groups I’ve never heard of. And on subjects I’m only just getting to grips with.
I was put in a group with some amazing minds, who knew straight away what to do, what idea to sell and the situation of the nation right now. And I just shut down. I felt entirely out of my depth, overwhelmed and just plain dumb.
I’m incredibly hard on myself and expect a lot, so the fact that I felt I had nothing at all to add, was devastating. To the point that when my CEO (who happened to be in my group) asked “so what do you think Gretel?” I just burst into tears. I told my group how I felt and apologised for being so useless.
It was embarrassing, but they of course took me under their collective wing, told me I was being silly and that of course I’m not expected to know everything yet. The session ran through lunch and sure enough, the more we talked about it, the more I could pick apart the framework and build a narrative around our idea.
At the feedback session afterwards, with all 60 of us in the room, our co-founders asked us how we felt it all went. A lot of people spoke up, saying it was great, it was tough, but it was inspiring. I then put my hand up and said how difficult it was for me, how upset I got (with myself) and how overwhelming I found the entire situation.
The reaction I got was so warm and full of love. Afterwards, both my CEO, Line Manager and Big Boss came and gave me hugs and thanked me for speaking up. Another girl in the group said I was brave for sharing.
And it’s funny. Because for me, I didn’t think it was brave. It was normal. They asked for feedback and I gave it. Once I got back to London I understood better about why it could be seen as brave. Not everyone would allow themselves to speak up truthfully like that. It’s quite a vulnerability to show.
But that’s exactly why I did it. Because without being honest, nothing can ever change. My speaking up led to others coming to me and being honest with me. It led to me taking on a session later in the day where we talked about what it meant to be a new person at Futerra and what we can do to make the on-boarding experience easy, simple and fun.
Because what I have learnt very quickly in my time with this group of people, and this company, is that change can happen. And being open is the only way to ensure that.
I’m so incredibly proud to be a Futerran, and I can’t wait to develop even further and help make sure the world we love gets as much back from us as we take.
Imagining better and making it happen is something very real, and very doable. So lets do it!