My husband and I had the great fortune to be invited to join a dear friend, her fiancé and eight of their close pals for a celebration of some milestone birthdays. Our rendezvous point was a gorgeous, circa 16th-century villa in Umbria, Italy with modern amenities, 10 bedrooms, six bathrooms and two kitchens. Obviously, some sharing was going to be involved.
We were a motley but fascinating group ranging in age from early 30s to 80, of disparate life experiences and talents brought together under one roof to toast our friends while enjoying the breathtaking beauty, rich history and agrarian lifestyle of central Italy. We comprised:
A special events maven
A former hedge fund manager
A specialty tour operator
A singer and theatrical performer
A former retail executive
A dancer and choreographer
A sales director and publisher
A marketing and communications specialist
And me, an arts administrator and consultant.
There was no planned itinerary, save for the birthday party scheduled for Saturday evening. But prior to our arrival, our consummate hosts had sent each of us a detailed package about Umbria, supplying information about the house, houseguests and noteworthy medieval sites all within an hour’s drive of our home-away-from-home for the week. We were free to lounge, forage and wander around, on our own or together with our housemates.
There were few house rules:
- No wet glasses on wood furniture.
- Only plastic by the pool.
- Stay clear of the kitchen around meal times unless unloading groceries, cooking or cleaning.
Somehow, with just a hint of structure (thanks to great pre-planning by our hosts), the week came together seamlessly, like a loosely improvised dance cooperatively choreographed by all 12 of us. Although we had few things in common beyond deep affection for our hosts and a shared love of culture, we enjoyed getting to know one another and learning where we hailed from, how we spent our time and what made us all tick. We soon settled into an easy rhythm – breakfast and strong coffee at home in the a.m.; sightseeing, lunching and shopping in the comunes and cittàs of Todi, Deruta, Orvieto, Perugia and Assisi during the day; swimming and sunning in the afternoon; and dining together al fresco every night under the clay-tiled pergola.
Without being asked or directed, everyone pitched in to the communal experience. Some cooked, some cleaned, some shopped, some drove, some navigated, some tour guided, some became experts at the confounding Italian appliances, some entertained, and some fed the cat.
And throughout, all of us talked. Dinner table conversation was abundant, meandering and rich in personal storytelling. I will admit that a couple of times I found myself bristling from viewpoints I didn’t agree with. But I was on vacation. “Just relax and listen,” I’d say to myself, “Everyone has a right to his or her opinion. Go with the flow.” That attitude, lubricated by delicious Umbrian wine, made for engaging encounters and one of our best vacations yet.
Now that I’ve returned to the real world, I’m keen to hold on to that attitude and translate it to the workplace. Here’s what I’ve taken away from the experience:
- Assemble a group of interesting, accomplished people of various talents.
- Provide some structure.
- Give everyone an opportunity to participate and contribute.
- Welcome diverse perspectives and embrace all as valid.
- Appreciate both the individual and the group.
- Pitch in and work together, despite differences.
- Improvise as needed and go with the flow.
I invite you to do this, too. You’ll be amazed at the results, and the richer for it. And when you’re not working, visit Italy.