Receiving an invitation to attend SNEC-PMI’s seminar at sea was a surprise to me. About a week before sailing, I was offered a spot to replace one of my co-workers. I jumped at the chance.
I woke up before 6 a.m. Thursday, August 14. The bed was empty. The dog was with her auntie, where she was spending the next four days. My partner Deborah was too excited to sleep and moved to the other bedroom in the middle of the night.
Deborah came in and plopped her pillows on the bed before shuffling off to the bathroom. With a minimum of grumbling, we got out of the house at the prescribed hour—bags were in the car, breakfast to go, tea in the travel mugs.
Fifteen minutes later we were lost. What kind of project manager am I? I was sure to Mapquest the directions to 99 Founders Plaza, and then promptly left them in the printer. Fortunately, Laura Wirtz—the transportation coordinator—is no fool. She sent all the bus riders a list of cell phone numbers, including hers. We got back on track and didn’t even have to run for the bus.
The other people on the bus were chatty and friendly. We stopped in Meridan and North Haven to pick up the rest of our traveling companions. Less than three hours later we were in New York City, cruising down Columbus Ave, headed towards the pier.
The bus pulled in too early, so they said, but by the time we checked in (“Passports, please”) we had only a little bit of a wait before boarding the boat.
I’ve never been on a cruise before. The early arrival, despite the seeming insanity of it, allowed us to get lunch quickly and then wander around and get good and lost.
It was a warm and beautiful day and after second lunch, Deborah and I pulled out some lounge chairs and fell asleep.
We returned to our room before the scheduled departure. Right as the boat was pushed into the Hudson River, it started to pour, but that didn’t put a damper on our excitement nor that of some other passengers.
As we passed Lady Liberty, a raucous group sang patriotic tunes – off key but with a lot of spirit. Deborah and I waited until passing under the VerrazanosNarrowsBridge before going down to dinner.
Friday morning, I tiptoed out of the room to avoid disturbing Deborah and hurried upstairs to get breakfast before the session’s start at 8 a.m. Only problem is that hot breakfast is not available until 7:30. I cooled my heels with a cup of hot tea. Lo, one of the lines opened a little early and I got a breakfast of all sorts of things I normally wouldn’t eat. Yum, yum.
The room in which we met normally hosts a Karaoke bar. It didn’t look conducive to a lecture on Project Management Leadership and Emotional Intelligence. As it turned out, no lecture was to ensue. Instead, we were led through a leadership course that normally lasts nine days and we crammed into five hours. It was very interactive, which was a good thing because the room was pretty cold.
Jerry Brightman, the facilitator, led us through a dark side exercise, world café, creating and selling Harry’s castle, and other activities designed to improve our emotional intelligence. I’m not sure how intelligent I looked as I wore a wizard’s hat and sang about wizards, trolls, and magical creatures. Also, what were the emotions involved in introducing myself as Sarah Domineering?
The session went too fast to take many notes but some suggestions that I took from these five hours were:
- Strengths overused can become a weakness
- The skills I have currently will not get me to where I want to be
- Using World Café (http://www.theworldcafe.com/what.htm), I can help a team to discuss the project in a way that will, eventually, allow for the more effective description and understanding of the project’s objective.
- All strengths have a dark side and we all have dark sides
There was much more to this workshop then these four items and I believe they will work their ways into my head over the next 6 to 8 months.
Friday evening was play night on the boat. With no sessions the next morning and no on-shore excursions, I knew I could stay up late and get away with it. (I chose to not attend the oil refinery tour.)
Carnival Cruise Lines is a fun house with screws. It is chock full of activities, much of it just a little over the top for my tasks. After dinner, Deborah and I agreed to go to the show with the Victory Dancers. The show title was “Living in America.” Now, my supervisor who has done a lot of cruising warned me about the shows but I thought “how bad can they be.” The answer is “REALLY BAD.” I quickly understood why these poor dancers got jobs on a family focused cruise ship. I also quickly departed the theater.
The rest of the evening was more fun – signing along with Peter at the revolving piano bar, dancing in the disco with other PMPs, and hollering in the sports bar for Michael Phelps as he took the 200 fly by 1/100th of a second.
Saturday was the free day in sunny Saint John – only it was pouring. After much hesitation, Deborah and I left the boat. We purchased very chic plastic poncho that labeled us as tourists because of the red maple leaves and the word “ Canada” printed all over them. I’ll tell you, though, it was $4.00 well spent.
Deborah and I walked into Saint John, stopped at the City Market, and then wandered the residential streets. With totally soaked feet, we found a quite and sophisticated but not ostentatious café were we had a little lunch and talked to some very friendly locals.
Saturday evening, the ship left port to the tunes of a bagpiper. It was foggy and most of Saint John disappeared before we even pulled away from the dock.
Sunday, it was back to the seminar. This morning Frank Saladis presented Team Building and Influencing Skills for Leaders. It was another day packed with information. This included both experiential workshops and lectures with PowerPoint slides. One of the exercises was to think of someone who greatly influenced both our business and personal lives and to identify the qualities of that person. Another was to build a treasure chest with other team members who were each assigned a specific role. Only we were not allowed to share with the others what our individual roles were. This showed the challenge of unclear role definitions and communication problems.
Throughout the day, participants wrote idea “gems” from both Friday’s or Sunday’s sessions and put them in the treasure chests. At the end, the cards were collected and will be published for the seminar attendees.
By 1 p.m., most of us were pretty tired. We dispersed after to group picture (and some dispersed, myself included, before the group picture). The weather was clearer but still cool. After lunch, I went back to my room to watch the Olympics and to sit on my balcony. Also, I went to the fitness center which was equipped quite nicely. A few other attendees had the same idea, but there were plenty of machines for both cardio and weight training for all of us.
The sunset Sunday night was spectacular, putting a rosy finish on the Seminar at Sea.
Monday, I woke at 5:40 and peeked outside. We were traveling down Long Island towards New York City. The coast line was dotted with a string of lights in the minimal light just before dawn. I got dressed and spent the next hour and a half on the balcony watching the lights grow and the sounds intensify. It was like a beautiful urban symphony starting with the light hum of the traffic on the VerrazanosNarrowsBridge and building to the cacophony that is New York City.
Dockside, we were regaled with a forklift ballet as we ate breakfast and then waited to be instructed to disembark the ship.
Most of the group got through customs and immigration no problem and then we waited for about an hour for the bus that would return us to North Haven, Meridan, and East Hartford. Happily I piled onto the bus – which was much quieter than on the ride down. I was tired but very glad I had just attended my first seminar at sea.
This was an opportunity that I had only dreamed about when I moved to Connecticut just four months ago and joined SNEC. The intimate setting allows for intensive instruction for the key speakers as well as making strong connections with other project managers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and the Washington, D.C. area.
I hope SNEC schedules more of these events and that I have the opportunity to attend in the future.
Sarah Schneiderman, PMP