Why we all need a ‘brains trust’, or group of ex-colleagues who tell it like it is
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It's often said that the colleagues you meet in your first 'real' job are the ones you retain as friends for life.
That didn't happen for me.
However, I can happily report that just a couple of jobs down the line I did meet a group of colleagues who've since become the kind of friends who stick around for a long time. We worked together as journalists, editors, designers and publishers in a high-pressure, low-resourced, deadline driven environment for years. It was a place where we were free to come up with and execute ideas for new publications and products, but where internal politics, procedures and red tape made success a constant, uphill battle.
Nonetheless, we persevered, keeping abreast of each other's ultimate hopes and ambitions and promising, where possible, to help get everyone to where they wanted to be. We went so far as to call ourselves "The Coalition of the Willing" – a name that reflects the oftentimes brutal experience of media and our mantra of "no woman left behind".
It was only speaking to Petra Buchanan, the CEO of the Australian Subscription Television Association this week that I realised this brilliant little group of women is my "brains trust", and that I wouldn't trade them for the world.
"I've had some great mentors but equally I've had a great 'brains trust' of friends," Buchanan told me. "To this day there are three or four people I consult with on big and little issues ... They're a great reality call when you don't have it right, and you're your best supporter when you need that boost of confidence."
My "brains trust" will know exactly who they are and potentially be a little chuffed to hear me calling them that ("you used 'brains', and us, in the same sentence?"). We all now work in different-sized organisations and in varying positions, but we still know enough about each and everyone's daily tasks to be able to offer solid and useful feedback, and advice on particular issues. There's no schedule to our regular meet-ups, and certainly no formality to the way we behave once we're sitting around the same table.
But the benefits of all keeping in contact, and working at maintaining the friendships between the group, have been invaluable.
Here's what I believe a brains trust can offer women, based entirely on what my little group of incredible women have offered me:
- Help you get your next job
- Tell you when it's 'time to move on'
- Be straight-up when your ideas are completely off target
- Offer excellent and expert feedback on projects in progress
- Provide names and contacts of third parties who can help with your work
- Give a trusted reference for an individual you're looking to hire for a particular position
- Introduce you to industry contacts.
- Put up an excellent and passionate argument (great practise for office disputes).
- Provide long-lasting friendships based on a mutual understanding and appreciation of what you want from life and work.
- Remind you that you're not all that bad at your job
- Listen, when you're feeling down.
- Make for excellent lunch, dinner and drinking companies – just as long as you get out of there at a reasonable hour.
Do you have a brains trust? How do they help you?
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