Oswald Letter

Hit the Road to a Better Understanding of Your Colleagues

Traveling with coworkersHave you ever noticed how traveling with someone helps you really get to know them? In 1976, my mother, two siblings, and I embarked on a trip across the country with my grandparents. My father, what a wise man he was, somehow avoided this particular trip. The six of us spent two weeks together “on vacation” with a full half of it spent riding in the car — three across the front seat and three across the back.

Now, as you would expect, I knew my mother and siblings quite well, but in those two weeks I really got to see another side of my grandparents. I learned their habits, their triggers, and their personalities. My grandfather, for instance, was a big breakfast man. For two weeks, I got to see him consume two eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, orange juice, and, much to the chagrin of a 10-year-old, two prunes. That was breakfast for Grandpa. Like I said, I got to know him well.

And a full week in the car gave us time to talk and hear stories. I learned things about my grandparents’ youth, my mom’s childhood, and heard stories about my uncles’ antics growing up. I got a great look into my mom’s life when she was young and learned things about my grandparents I would have never known. Another example, the sole of my grandfather’s shoe was worn where he used it daily to wind his watch because it was easier for him to do it that way than get his finger to work that tiny dial.

My grandfather died months after that trip and the time our family had together meant the world to my mother. And for me it provided memories that would last a lifetime. I felt like I got to know him at a level I never would have achieved had we not traveled across the country together.

I tell this story because I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately and have spent some time with colleagues while on the road. Recently, while in St. Louis, I took in a Cubs-Cardinals baseball game with coworkers and a few others. Later in the week, in Chicago, I had a great dinner with a number of colleagues. And on Sunday, while at a conference in Washington D.C., I shared dinner with 10 of my coworkers, one whom I had just met for the first time, who were also attending the conference.

It was at that dinner when it struck me how much value can be found in traveling with fellow employees. You get to see your colleagues outside the office in a more casual setting. You get to spend time with them talking about their lives, interests, families, and more. Travel provides an opportunity to get to know people at a level it’s sometimes difficult to achieve in the office.

Sitting at dinner the other night, I heard stories about childhood, parents, spouses, children, and personal interests. I learned about accomplishments, points of pride, and personalities. And, maybe most importantly, I got to observe these coworkers interact with one another as they shared their stories. I can tell you things about many of those people that I most likely never would have known had I been traveling with them.

So, if you have the opportunity to get out of the office with the people with whom you work, do it. And when you’re traveling, make sure you take the time to have dinner or socialize with your coworkers. Don’t hide in your hotel and order room service. Get out there and spend some time with your colleagues. You’ll learn things about them that will help you gain a better understanding of who they are as individuals and what really makes them tick. Those are wonderful things for a manager to know!