I used to run a lot of Team Building sessions. Yes, yes, I’ll admit it; please don’t judge me too harshly. You know the kinds of sessions I’m talking about: the Trust Falls and ten-pin bowling, the shorthand psychometric tests, the what-nobody-knows-about-me introductions. What can I say, it was the 90s, we were all high on Oprah-inspired EQ. All that forced jocularity and intimacy, seemed a revolutionary gesture. Just using the word “team” seemed to include us in the onward march of humanity.
I could have sworn I was contributing to world peace.
But here was the problem with most of these sessions. (And I think you know this already.) Little – if anything — was ever really “built” on those away days. Propped up, maybe, gussied up, definitely, like a float in an Aren’t We Awesome parade. But relationships? Trust? Communication? Meh…. Everyone knew their roles; the scripts had largely been written. The ending HAD to be happy.
So although the promise was for you to “be yourself”, who really wanted to go there? To be the loner, the truth teller, or the naysayer? What happened at the team building definitely didn’t stay at the team building, that wasn’t the point. So we smiled to protect key relationships; we managed our inputs to fulfill expectations.
Trust me, I was doing the same.
We subsumed our selfs to the collective, letting ourselves off the hook for the integrity of our interactions, the veracity of ourselves. I collected my paycheck; my clients returned to their desks. All without ever having really shown up.
Turns out, if you really want to build a team, you’ve got to Show Up to it. Not just when the sun is shining and somebody’s playing music in the background. Because it turns out there is an “I in team”, right at the heart of it, radiating out all the emotion, the intention, the passion. In fact, without that fully switched-on “I” in the middle of our team, we’re just people sharing space.
Yes you! Thriving teams start with you. Not your boss, not HR, not your direct report. You. Being yourself. In fact, being more of yourself, more often. It’s called authenticity, and it’s sort of the 2010s antidote to chummy collectivity. The artisanal individual, the whole grain you. Your integrity is the essential building block of the team’s integrity.
Me + You
But of course, Team is about more than me. It’s Me and You, connecting through conversations that glue our whole team together. When we engage courageously in real life, everyday give and take, we find new ways to connect, new trust in the possibility for co-creation. We accept that our script isn’t actually written already; we’re writing it every day.
Ultimately the Team is Us: charged with realizing shared goals, supporting shared ambitions. We function best when our component parts – Me and You – are firing at all those micro moments that maybe only we know about. Because when they are firing, we can then play, experiment and grow together, secure in the strength of our component parts.
Team Building Today
So you want to do team building today? Don’t call the consultant, save money on the venue, stop compiling the play list. Just do these three things. Every day.
- AUTHENTICITY: Accept – no embrace! – the simple fact that attention to your authentic self is your greatest contribution to your team, and the only one you have total control over.
- EMPATHY: Take your authenticity to the next meeting and in return offer up empathy – the willingness to accept the wholeness of the human across the table from you. Then look out for all the micro-shifts that start to occur.
- EXPERIMENTATION: Unleash your creativity. No, not by painting or drawing. By beginning to treat your Team as partners in co-creativity. New ways of seeing, operating, and relating start to pop when we approach the collective with generosity and imagination. Believe that you have the power to create new ways of working together, and soon enough you will.
So, do go ahead and do your semi-annual team outing…bowling, an amusement park, a volunteer activity. We all love that! Certainly bring in a speaker for learning and inspiration, because there’s always a benefit to stimulate your thinking with new perspectives. But the real key to team bonding is sitting right under your nose, and you can use it right now and any time you want. It’s just you.
Written by Jillian Reilly