A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to work for a large corporation with operations all over the world (Hint; it’s in the FMCG industry).

Even though I was employed in the local site in Karachi (Pakistan) it was still a couple of hundred people operation (not including the distributors and sub distributors and staff at the warehouse and plan and port). 

In short, it was a lot of people and I was a fresh-out-of-undergrad doe-eyed kid with no idea of what to expect. Being hired as a Systems Analyst and Distributor Systems Manager meant very little to me, other than some vague way of saying I’d be spending a lot of time in a cubicle.

True to the tradition of company culture, I was dropped head first into a major system revamp project which had been in the pipeline for a couple of months, and was not really moving along. The first item on my “onboarding” list, such as it was, involved meeting my manager and introducing myself to get things on the way.

So on the first day, I went to the office and HR promptly did the standard 15-minute onboarding program for me, covering compensation, policies and procedures. Afterwards I was supposed to meet my onsite mentor to get some guidance with the departmental policies.  But I was pretty much left to fend myself with nothing more than a name and a vague sense of the direction to go.

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So I did what every sane person in my situation would do. Ask for help! After asking round about 5 people, I finally found myself stumbling by the desk of the person who was to be my onsite mentor.

He explained to me what my job was all about, what I was expected to do, and how the department was structured. It was all very vague. He didn’t have any organizational charts or other materials to give me much of a sense of things, but he did show me a couple of power point slides with names in boxes.  I found it hard to visualize what in fact the department looked like. How was it structured? Who did I report to? What was my place in the department? Where did I fit in? Who was everyone’s boss? How did the local site and the country manager of Pakistan fit in the ‘bigger’ picture?

Leaving all those questions unanswered, I promptly got to work. But before I set off, I asked him ‘Who is my manager?’  To which I got the reply that ‘We all work remotely here, your manager is based in Turkey’. Turkey!  That seemed awfully far away!  A few thousand kilometers more or less.  Talk about virtual organizations!

Since I am the curious type, I asked him what this manager looked like.   He replied that he didn’t have a picture to show me because it was such a big company and I was in a different service line. A different service line?  I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but guessed it had something to do with the way the department was structured.  But that just led to more questions.  What does it really mean? How does it impact me? I had no idea and he didn’t have anything except shapes on a PowerPoint deck to explain it to me… which didn’t really help much.

A week later after many email exchanges with my manager in Turkey, we finally set up a call to introduce ourselves formally. I still didn’t know much about him, except that he was old, Turkish and married.  He didn’t know anything about me either, except that I was based in Karachi, a fresh graduate from engineering, a “20 something” person, and (perhaps) someone with a reputation for curiousity about organizational structure! We both had no idea what the other person looked like. How awkward. I checked the local directory server for his name, but got nothing except a name, email and phone. Again, no picture, no personal details.

I accepted the fact that this was how it is. The person I shall work with shall never know how I look.  Likewise for me.  Except for names and those omnipresent e-mail ids.  I came to realize fairly quickly that the team I was to work with on some key projects were nothing more than voices over the phone and emails to me.  No one knew what the other people on the team looked like, or even had any insight into their personal interests.  In retrospect I guess we are all just too shy or deemed it inappropriate to ask each other any of these personal details. Needless to say ‘team dynamics and bonding’ were an issue.

Months later, I found myself at a conference in Scotland where all the people from my service lines (Still no idea what that is or how it works) gathered. I met some people I had worked with for months.  I was finally able to put faces to names (and email ID’s) and my manager, well let’s say even at the conference, I had to ask for directions to find the right person, but after all this time, I finally knew what he looked like.

So what you ask? Why did I go all through this ranting to write this? To what end you say?

Simple – the moral of the story is that when I first sat down with Eric and Brett to talk about what Organimi is doing, I had an instant flash back to those days back in the summer of (not 69) my first full time job; if only, I thought to myself, if only I had something like this, I would have saved myself and everyone who came before me, and after me, so much trouble just to find the right people in a vast maze of names and faces.

I have a feeling I am not alone.  Being engaged in the workplace requires effective tools to connect with the people you work with.  I hope you find this story relevant and it resonates with you on some level.  I would love to hear from you so leave a comment!