Ever want to know what it's like to work at Room to Read's global office in San Francisco? Well, on a typical morning, the rhythmic tapping sound of computer keys dominates. Whether working on grant proposals, elaborate spreadsheets or emails to our country offices, staff are usually head down and hard at work in this office ruled by a GSD (“Get Stuff Done”) attitude.
Last week, the silence was broken several times by squeals of recognition and reunion, as several of our remote office staff arrived for a week of training and to attend the annual Room to Read staff retreat. Team members from Japan, London, Sydney, Hong Kong and New York joined our San Francisco team to create a melodious cacophony of accents, as finally, after weeks or months of emails, faces were put to emails, skypes and phone calls.
It's hard to believe but we had almost seventy people attend our staff retreat this year and for 35 of them, it marked their first Room to Read off-site experience and their nervous excitement was palpable. Our facilitator, Clara, who packed a wallop of enthusiasm into her petite stature, admitted that a few years ago she too had interviewed for a position with Room to Read (and recognized her interviewers as they gave embarrassed waves from the audience). She hadn't gotten the job, but was thrilled to have come full circle to work with us after all.
It’s not easy to walk into a room of high achievers – Room to Read is comprised of a bunch of multi-lingual, well-traveled, highly-educated, marathon-running, former Peace Corps-volunteering, corporate refugee, do-gooders. We’re competitive, have a keen sense of justice, don’t shirk hard work and can entertain ourselves by improvising games involving peanut butter and ping-pong balls when the electricity goes out (which it did...for several hours).
The first order of business for any conference/retreat is to set the ground rules. Clara announced that every time someone made a comment during the next two days, the rest of the group would acknowledge the comment with two claps and a verbal “whoosh,” complete with a spell-casting flick of the fingers. Eye-rolls and eyebrow-raises were evident throughout the room, and the first few Clap, Clap, Whooshes were definitely awkward. But by the end of the second hour, speakers graciously accepted their Clap, Clap, Whooshes. In fact, though no one would likely admit it, it actually felt good to be on the receiving end of this silly gesture!
So what was it about the Clap, Clap, Whoosh that was so effective, despite its high potential ranking on the hokey meter? Translated, it’s a high five, a thumbs up, or a knowing wink – the message is universal, as was evidenced by the general acceptance of the "whooshing" by our entire global staff.
At Room to Read, we take special pride in doing our own version of the Clap, Clap, Whoosh – it’s part of our culture to recognize and acknowledge everyone who reaches out to our organization – donors, information seekers, volunteers, and most importantly, the children and communities with whom we work. We recognize the important contributions of every individual, because we know the power of one. One person to take an idea and turn it into an organization. One person to write a check to support our work. One person to teach a child to read. One child to learn and, in doing so, to change his or her life and the lives of their own community.
And so, from the entire Room to Read family to all of you who have been a part of us or are considering doing so, prepare to receive a very loud, very sincere and very appreciative CLAP, CLAP, WHOOSH!