What I Learned from Vancouver 2010

During the recent Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, I was the Venue Press Manager for the Whistler Media Centre and Whistler Medals Plaza. It was an amazing experience and I hope to write more about those adventures, but for now, here are just a few of the business-related lessons I plan to take away with me.

Meetings need to have a purpose

From mid-January through the end of the Games, our venue team had three meetings a day. Yes, three. The morning meeting was at 7:30am, the afternoon meeting was at 2pm and the wrap-up meeting was usually around 10:30pm or so. Attendance was mandatory. Needless to say, this made for some very long days, especially when there were a lot of other things going out that required our attention.

Communication between and within teams is important, and everyone needs to be on the same page, but meetings are not always the best tool for getting the message across. Rather than repeating the old same discussions or detailing the reasons why something isn’t working, focus on the information the people in the room need to do their job, make a decision, and move on.

In other words, the more you limit the time spent meeting, the more you can be out doing.

Just say “no”

I struggled a lot with this one – it took me a while to accept that it’s okay to say “no” when appropriate. Is it the Canadian mentality of politeness, or the “good girl” baggage that makes me want to please everyone and not make waves?

Whatever the reason, I would not have survived the Games if I said “yes” to every request that was made of me – and there were some doozies! No, I cannot waive all of the Olympic accreditation and security clearance rules just because your boss “lent” you his accreditation. No, I will not lend you all of my volunteers when I’m already short-staffed and have three press conferences to run today. No, it is not okay to completely change an office layout that has already been approved and paid for by one of my clients.

Whether you’re dealing with customers, co-workers or the general public, sometimes the answer – to protect your team, your time, your sanity – needs to be no! (Said politely, of course…)

Empower your team

It is incredible what a group of motivated people – from different backgrounds and countries, with different reasons for being there – can accomplish when given the opportunity to do their best work.

During the Games, I had a team of 30-some people reporting to me – only five of which were paid to be there. What impressed me the most were the volunteers – many of whom travelled to Whistler at their own expense – who would come in early or stay late when it was needed, cope with an ever-changing environment, and take the occasional verbal abuse from some crotchety clients without losing their composure. We got tremendous feedback about how we gave them the tools and training they needed, and then gave them the freedom to do their jobs without micro-managing every little thing.

My team at the Whistler Medals Plaza

Maybe they didn’t always answer the phone the exact way I would have, or they weren’t able to answer a media question as quickly as I could have – but they were thrown into a crazy situation and did an amazing job, freeing me to handle larger issues.

Mistakes are inevitable

You will make mistakes – everyone does. But what people will remember is how you react to them: how you own up to it, solve the problem, make amends.

We had our share of missteps: some were small and resolved quickly, other were big and were subject to endless media and public scrutiny. But we didn’t let those mistakes define the Games, and in the end, I think the impression of these Games were overwhelmingly positive – both internationally and here at home.

Learn from your mistakes, do what you can to fix them, and move on.

Always have an exit strategy

VANOC spent over six years planning to host a Games that would be over in six weeks. The planning for the end of the Games – the “load out” phase and the disposal of assets – began long before the Olympic Torch was lit or the first medal was awarded. And I’m glad they did – after six weeks of 16-hour work days (and no days off), the last thing I wanted to think about what was “now what do we do with all of this stuff?”

This “end of Games” planning process included the thousands of people who worked on the project. Through a series of workshops, an internal program called “Beyond 2010” was designed to help us figure out what we wanted to do next, and prepare for the inevitable letdown that comes when something you put so much energy into ends just like that.

It’s important to always keep looking ahead, with one eye on what’s next.

What's next?


About Erin

Bookworm, word nerd, grammar geek. Small town girl, living in a lonely world. Running a race-per-month in 2013.
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