After driving all over Abuja for meetings with the ten FCTA departments during the first week of our project, the locus of the action for our second week moved to the “team room” at our hotel. The team room was a regular hotel room, converted into a working space. We had all the necessities for collaboration there – speakerphones, white boards, flipcharts, walls that would become covered with “sticky notes” with our observations and a projection TV for us to jointly edit slides. Ann and Israel had stocked plenty of snacks and drinks there as well, so we had no excuses for slacking!
Monday was largely spent in distilling the observations from our meetings into themes for each agency. We split up the work such that each of us had two departments each – I had the Department of Outdoor Advertising and Signage and the Internal Revenue Service. At the end of the workday, we had a concise view of the current revenue recovery situation, obstacles and a series of ideas for tackling the obstacles across all the ten departments.
Sausage being made
After work, I headed out downtown to the Transcorp Hilton hotel to meet my batchmate from my engineering school in India (IIT Kharagpur), Anurag. Anurag has been living in Lagos for over five years, managing operations for a multinational agribusiness company, and he happened to be in Abuja on work. We caught up over a drink at the poolside restaurant, and he regaled me with stories of his experiences doing business in Nigeria.
Old pals catching up
Tuesday’s pretty much like Monday – discussing, debating, writing, rewriting. After a full day of work, we head out for dinner. The place we chose comes highly recommended by TripAdvisor, has posh décor and an inviting (and pricey) menu – alas, the food left a lot to be desired. Divine’s medium rare steak came out well done, the calamari was rubbery and so on. Our complaints about the food to the waiter resulted in him bringing us a plate of appetizers – after we had finished our meal! One lives and learns.
Wednesday morning, we head to the FCTA office. We split up into two groups, with one group in charge of conducting FCTA employee surveys and focus groups, while Marvin and I meet with selected leaders to sound out our findings and recommendations. We get really good inputs from the survey and the feedback meetings also help us a lot in adjusting our course.
FCTA employee survey and focus groups
Back to the “office” on Thursday – and inevitably, tensions surface over differences in our thinking and direction. It was to be expected – a team of five strong-willed individuals, who had never worked together previously, with very different backgrounds and without a designated leader. By the middle of the day, the tension is palpable and becoming counter-productive. The leaderless nature of our team meant someone had to volunteer to take on the unpleasant and unrewarding task of orchestrating a team soul-baring session, get things out in the open and attempt to forge an acceptable work environment and path forward – else the project would suffer. Leaving matters unresolved, we head out to what was meant to be a “thank you” dinner from the team to members of the extended SCC team, including Remi, the IBM Nigeria Community Affairs leader, Ann, the Pyxera Nigeria leader, Israel, our able “Man Friday”, Nasiru, our driver and members of the FCTA support team who had been working closely with us. Due to a miscommunication, the FCTA support team couldn’t make it to Masala Wahala for dinner – but that didn’t stop the rest from enjoying time outside the pressure cooker atmosphere of the “office”.
(YouTube link) The talented Sameh playing Be-Sameh Mucho in an unusual duet
Friday morning, Remi, who has been with us from the start, leaves for some downtime at her home in Lagos. Divine steps up and starts our work day by calling on everyone to address the elephant in the room. We each talk about our take on the situation – airing things out help a lot in easing the atmosphere, and we emerge from the session with much of the positive team vibes of the initial days restored. We plough through the task of distilling and refining our findings and recommendations into a crisp presentation to the Minister and a more detailed report that we would leave behind. At the end of Friday, we are at a much better place work-wise, with our thinking synched into a semblance of unison. We also tick off a number of secondary items from our to-do list, including prepping the IBM external relations people about our project and creating visual collateral for the final presentation. The day concludes with a status update call with the SCC leadership team in the US and the UK. Anne and Celia from the SCC team have been supportive all the way, and give us pointers on how to finesse the critical last week and the final presentation.
A tough but ultimately, productive week. I’m looking forward to the weekend to clear my head and get ready for the final dash to the finish line. The presentation to the Minister is on Thursday – so three more workdays remain to get everything ship-shape.