I can’t believe it’s not structured!

I can’t believe it’s not structured! | MCI United States | EN

February, 26 2021

By: Erin Fuller, President, Association Solutions

I often say that due to my only child-latchkey-kid Gen X upbringing, I was trained for pandemic living. Certainly, my over-reliance on Amazon to bring all things into my house was firmly in place prior to last March, including groceries.

Despite initial supply-chain disruptions last year, I have had nothing but good experiences with grocery delivery, and I appreciate everyone who makes it possible to ensure that my kids don’t run out of their Greek yogurt drinks and that I don’t run out of a very specific kind of chocolate bar while minimizing our trips into The World. However, like all systems, sometimes there are glitches.

Last week, I opened the last bag on my counter and discovered: a bag of miniature peanut butter cups, two packages of American cheese, and a two-pound container of butter substitute. As my younger son is peanut allergic and we tend to like our butter real, I knew these weren’t my items. But Amazon couldn’t take it back because it had been contaminated inside my house, so: This bag of questionable health was ours.

My older son absconded with the peanut butter cups (to an outside porch, with promises of Silkwood-like cleansing to occur), and we eat enough quesadillas to manage the fake cheese. So: the really big, yellow tub of non-butter. I put out an APB to my neighbors, asking if any of them would use it.

I live in Arlington, Virginia, where most people’s food is fair trade, ethically sourced, and whole grain. The horrified responses were hilarious. And as a result, I have three parents coming over to connect, distanced and masked, on my back porch during the one unseasonably moderate early evening we have this week. I haven’t seen some of them in person since a year ago, and as someone who is the only adult that lives in my house, I am very excited to see them.

It never would have happened without the (fake) butter.

When people ask me my thoughts on the cost of the pandemic, it is the lack of spontaneous conversations that I mourn the most. Those times when I waited for the last group to exit the conference room that allowed me to ask that one question of someone I didn’t see all the time. Checking out what my colleagues were eating for lunch, and realizing I needed to up my salad game. Dipping into a client brainstorming session, realizing their discussion had direct relevance to another client, and creating opportunities for that connection.

Some of our clients are working to create these liminal spaces. The use of the Icebreaker system to connect people 1:1 to find connections. Mentorship pairings that work to align professionals who may not have otherwise crossed paths. “Apparating” people in and out of breakout spaces to facilitate smaller group discussions.

I do wonder what else we could be doing to help more of this occur. I think back to missing my train and, as a result, sitting next to a senior executive from a company that became a sponsor. Or grabbing tea during a coffee break and recruiting someone into our company. We have all done such a great job of transitioning our meetings into a Teams/Zoom environment, but it is important to realize that a lot of work, innovation, and progress happened during transitions, sidebar chats, and entering the wrong room by mistake.

We should all determine how to throw some spontaneity into the mix to encourage these unplanned and unstructured connections. Because we can’t always rely on Amazon to grease the skids for us. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)


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Erin Fuller

Erin Fuller leads MCI USA’s team who focus on nonprofit management and consulting, and assesses business development and partnership opportunities that advance MCI’s mission and model while supporting a culture of creating thoughtful growth and strong career pathways.

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