Open Door Policy

I’m used to doing my work with the office door closed. In that quiet and privacy I edit communication strategies, write endless numbers of emails, and try to make project budgets come out right. When I need to, when I should, I open my office door and actually talk to people. It’s hard for me, though, this talking to people business. And yet my job as a team leader isn’t so much to do the writing/editing/budgeting myself, but to help other people do their own writing/editing/budgeting (and much more) as well as they can. That’s tough to do with the door closed. So here I am, opening the door.

This blog is an open-ended letter to my team. A love letter, really, though a pretty unromantic one. Have you read those old letters between spouses separated by oceans or continents long ago, full of practicalities (make sure you sell the cow before she goes dry) and very proper emotion (I receive with joy the news of your safe delivery of our child)? Yeah, it won’t be just like that. But kind of.

I’m going to tell old stories, say things I think should be said, let you know how pleased I am to be a part of your work, offer advice that people have offered me, and that I haven’t always shared because…well, the door was closed.

It’s open now. Come on in.

Who the heck is Lisa Cobb? And why is she writing a blog?

I am a team leader at JHU CCP, managing work in Malawi and Nigeria with teams in those countries and in Baltimore. Most of that work is focused on social behavior change communication. I have been at CCP for almost 17 years, most of my career. I came to JHU after serving in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan – my purpose at first was simply to get a job to pay for my MPH at Hopkins, but the job turned into a love for communication and a passionate belief in its power to change the world for the better, and so I’ve never left. In those years I’ve been a program assistant, a program officer, a senior program officer, a division chief, and a team leader. I’ve had fabulous bosses and ones that made me cry. I’ve been a boss, too, and I’ve made mistakes that hurt people. I probably still do.

I’m also a mother and a wife, a daughter and a sister and a friend. I have a house, a dog, a hedgehog, and a maddening commute. I say these things because they shape the way I work, and the reasons I work. These loves, commitments, and annoyances (the hedgehog is the only living thing among the annoyances, I promise) are the reasons I dash out of the office at the end of the day and the reasons I sometimes cry on the long ride to Dulles on the way to Abuja or Lilongwe. I am going to write about work life balance, and the competing needs for predictability and flexibility, and how to know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” at the office. We all have lives and passions outside of work, and they all deserve time and respect.

As to why I am writing a blog about work, the short answer is because it is easier than talking, for me. The longer I am in the work world, and the more I see good people come in and out of projects, the more I realize that lots of important things are left unsaid, implicit. I simply assume people know what I know, or share my value for the things I believe to be true. But why? Organizations never write these things down, or provide training, and in some ways it would be absurd to provide a training on something like “email tone.” But email tone matters, and it can be the difference between having a productive working relationship with the project you backstop overseas or deeply offending the people you want to support. This blog is an attempt to make explicit some of those things we never seem to say.

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