It happened earlier this month in Midtown Manhattan.
A motley group of us—mostly strangers—came together on West 49th Street in New York City.
We went there to become part of the disaster public affairs team of the American Red Cross. Our assignment was to supplement the excellent work being done by the local professionals who were already helping those affected by Superstorm Sandy.
We traveled from such faraway places as Anchorage, Chicago, Boston, California, Colorado, the Carolinas, Kansas City, Dallas, Seattle, Pensacola, Las Vegas and even Canada.
The miracle, if you will, was that such a diverse group could come together so quickly to form a cohesive, productive team. In the midst of the disaster relief efforts, our team overcame sizable obstacles and produced impressive results.
As I reflect upon what happened, I realize that our “miracle on 49th Street” can be attributed to the following factors:
- Mission. First, we were united because we shared a sense of purpose. We knew why we were there, and we instinctively understood how public affairs must always be an essential part of any disaster relief operation.
- Vision. We envisioned what success would look like before we actually set out doing our work. We had a vision—a clear picture—of what we could do together: share information, tell stories, engage people in conversations and serve as the operation’s eyes and ears on the ground
- Organization. Early on, we created an organizational chart and then revised it several times. We organized ourselves according to levels of experience, professional skills and areas of interest. This structure helped to make sure that “all the ducks were flying in the same direction and in the proper formation.”
- Communication. Knowing the importance of having everyone “sing harmony from the same song sheet,” we created numerous opportunities to communicate often with each other. We connected via meetings, conference calls, emails, text messages and even hallways conversations.
- Diversity. We each were different in important ways—age, gender, experience levels and even our personalities. We each brought different skills to the table. This allowed each person to perform different yet complementary functions. Some excelled at being interviewed on live TV, while others preferred writing or taking pictures. A few were especially skilled at engaging people via social media.
- Unity. Our diversity allowed us to cover all the bases, yet we tended not to focus on the ways we were different. Instead, we became unified as we focused on the things we shared in common. We aligned ourselves around our mission and functioned as a group of like-minded communications professionals.
- Training. Prior to arriving on the scene, we each had studied the same training manuals and had learned from the same curricula. We had role played using various disaster scenarios. Many of us also had real-life experience in public affairs from other disasters.
- Flexibility. Things changed rapidly and unexpectedly. Often our game plan had to be revised real time. Our team thrived because each person adapted quickly and was nimble enough to succeed in a chaotic environment.
- Commitment. Each member of the team knew that our ultimate reason for being in New York was to make a difference in the lives of people who looked to the Red Cross for help. That commitment kept our team motivated. We also knew that our loved ones back home shared our commitment because, in various ways, they were making sacrifices so we could be part of the public affairs team.
Yes, something miraculous happened in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. There on West 49th Street a group of ordinary people magically came together to do some extraordinary things. Our team gelled because we had prepared beforehand, we worked hard on the job and we were committed to producing results. Miraculously, in those difficult circumstances, our disaster public affairs team created a synergy where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
For the rest of my life, I will cherish the memories of what happened this month in New York City. I was proud to be part of something much bigger than myself.