When the first thing someone asks you on starting a new job is ‘we want to know what you think’, it’s a pretty good indication of the type of organisation you’ve just joined. And it’s a very positive sign.
This is what I was asked on joining the Crisis Team at the British Council, and it instantly made me feel empowered and trusted - two of the core features that I think make up career fulfillment.
The Crisis Team provide global on-call incident advice and support to British Council employees. They are there for any situation - from the detention of members of staff, to natural disasters or terror attacks. They also deliver training to county staff around the world to prepare them for how to respond to a crisis or incident. This is done by providing steps to follow, discussing how to gather and assess information, detailing who to contact in a crisis and so on, as well as by running simulation exercises to allow teams’ space to practice their responses.
This is one of the few careers that I’ve tried where I’ve had some actual experience; I worked at the Foreign Office in the Libya Team in 2014, just as the country descended into near-civil war, as well as at the Department for Health, where I worked on crisis planning and response in Adult Social Care. This meant doing scenario planning for what to do if hundreds of care homes flooded or were without power, or if there was a junior doctor strike, for example. These were roles that I’d really enjoyed, so I specifically chose to do a placement in Crisis Management as one of the 25, as I wanted to gain a better understanding of what a career in this field would involve, especially in an organisation that is so internationally focused.
On The Importance Of Company Culture
The real standout of working with the Crisis Team were the people themselves - I have never felt so welcomed into a team before, including in actual permanent non-25before25 jobs.
I found this to be the case across the entire British Council, everyone I spoke to seemed happily willing to take the time to meet me for a coffee and give some career advice, or help me with a project I’d been working on. This sentiment was repeated to me time and time again by other staff members - many truly felt that the organisation was a sincerely friendly and open place to work. There was a noticeably flat structure, with senior staff seeming to be very approachable; the CEO’s door seemed to be always open.
Things like this can make a difference to how you feel about a job - trust me, I have some horror stories. You could have the most exciting role, but if you are constantly held up by red tape and unhelpful and unfriendly colleagues, you are far less likely to want to go to work that morning.
The London Attack
On my third day with the team, unfortunately there was an attack in London at the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Bridge, only a few hundred meters from the British Council’s HQ.
© Associated Press, 22 March 2017
Whilst the situation was horrendous, it did give me the chance to observe what happens in a crisis close to home and learn from how the experts responded.
Within twenty minutes, an Incident Management Team (IMT) had been formed, and met gather information, assess the situation and decide a course of action. It became clear that the attack was localised and did not directly affect the British Council site, the team decided not to lock down the British Council offices. Within 80 minutes of the attack, an email notification was sent to all London staff to provide reassurance and advice. This was followed by an email to all UK-based staff.
The impact of the attack on the British Council was low, but this is not always the case. As they operate in nearly 120 countries around the world, staff are impacted whenever there is anything from civil unrest to outright civil war in a country, with various levels of response required, up to a full-scale evacuation.
There is an awful lot of ticks in boxes from this placement, and it has the added bonus of actually using my MA degree, which is always a good thing. There would be a high level of travel involved, to regions that I would love to spend some time in and learn more about.
There would certainly be the opportunity to think strategically, as horizon scanning and geopolitical analysis would be essential. Thing like problem solving, intellectual stimulation/challenge and variety are fairly self-explanatory - this is certainly a job where I’d never be bored!
Ultimately, working in crisis management will directly help people, and personal decision-making can have a huge impact. Add to this the work that the wider British Council does in International Development and for soft power, it means elements like making a difference and personally adding value are major features of working here.
The only areas I have questions over are that the vast majority of the work is desk-based, whether that’s in the UK or abroad, and that creativity would be corporate focused. Despite this, I felt that the positives of gelling so well with the team and the positive company culture tipped the scales firmly Crisis Management's favour, especially at the British Council’s.
So in short, if they were to offer me a job, what would I say?
In a word – yes!
This article can also be viewed on the blog.