I travelled by train this week up and down the UK. Not a regular occurrence…but occasional. Train journeys in the UK are much better than they used to be. I think the train lines are much the same…but the trains themselves are much better – comfier, cleaner, larger – and the train staff are also much better – more friendly, more helpful, more of them.
There is more choice for the passengers. And there is more competition than there used to be. Certainly for the franchises to run the respective routes. And regulation. Of the train companies and their performance. And more recently of course there is a multitude of social media based methods of the general public letting the train companies (and the rest of us) know about their experiences and views.
So yes. I travel by train more than I used to…and yes I also tend to enjoy it more than I used to. But yes…it also costs more than it used to!
My journey north from London last week was well planned. I am one of those travellers who likes to know where I am, where I am going, when and how. We had chosen an express train…not just faster but also many fewer stops between where I boarded and where I disembarked.
It was out of rush hour as well. So the whole train was very quiet. I had reserved seats (another relatively recent introduction) but was able to sit almost anywhere I wanted. The team on the train were happy and relaxed. They obviously knew this was a quiet train. They were well prepared and very helpful.
And we passengers were happy and comfortable. We had space, wifi, power, coffee, water, newspapers and time.
It was about ninety minutes before the train guard told everyone. He made an announcement that the earlier express train (the one that left in rush hour, the one that is always busy) had broken down up ahead…and we had to make an unscheduled stop to pick up those stranded passengers. He regretted any inconvenience this would cause.
Everything changed. As we approached the station it was apparent that our previously relaxed and happy crew had instantaneously morphed into worried and fraught. They were shouting up and down the train to and at each other. Nobody seemed quite sure about anything.
The existing passengers felt the mood change and we started to tense up. Everyone collected bags, cables, bottles. It was if we were hunkering down for an impending storm.
And the new passengers were grateful and relieved to get on board. Well no actually they weren’t. They were hot, angry and upset. They argued with each other over seats. They complained to the crew over reservations. They shouted down their cell phones to whoever was on the receiving end.
It was obvious when calm, sense and composure reappeared. It was also apparent why. It was two members of the train team working together. They were calm. They were sensitive and sensible. And they were understanding, reassuring and smiling. I could see them. And their impact. They changed everything…and changed it very quickly. Everyone else was frantic. They were unruffled. I knew they were trained…but they were natural as well…and very good!
Teamwork and focus and even philosophy are easy for us all when things are going well. The real test of us as individuals and of us as teams – the real test of the sincerity of our beliefs – these tests happen at times of pressure and challenge. How do we cope then?
Do we set the example? Do we help? Do we partner? Do we inspire? Do we lead?