Our goal at The Trust Factory is always to foster a learning environment for team building, where everyone is eager to work on themselves, build trust and solve issues.
A few months ago, Jean-Pierre and I were facilitating a team-building session with a new organization. It was our first in-person meeting doing teamwork after almost three years of solely online facilitations due to Covid.
We knew the leader from one of our previous workshops, but not his team. This leader had faith in our approach but had never worked with our team-building format. He anticipated that some team members would be guarded, skeptical or distracted, as they were new to this type of exploratory work. To get started, we organized one-on-one conversations to get to know the individuals. And, in fact, some were guarded, others skeptical, but none seemed distracted. Instead, everyone seemed open to the idea of gathering as a team. At minimum, they all wanted the retreat to be a safe space to process tensions by listening and communicating with each other.
In retrospect, that minimum expectation makes me smile.
Creating a safe space to process tensions and listen to one another is far more complex, profound, and messy than one would imagine. This is the work.
In a team building session, when we invite co-workers – with different roles, titles, experiences, identities, stories, baggage, and trigger points – to be more personal and authentic with each other, we are inviting surprises, as we never know exactly what will happen nor where the session will land. It’s part of the trepidation and excitement of doing teamwork.
Usually, our intentions are 1- to remove invisible yet critical barriers that limit a team from thinking together and becoming a space for co-creation, and 2- to arrive at some form of clarity, alignment, and tangible next steps. Jean-Pierre and I can usually guarantee making that occur while acknowledging that we might still be somewhat confused and disconnected at the end of a session. This too is a form of clarity. No one likes it. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s part of the exercise of being in reality. It is what is true. And this is the only place from which we can start to address vital team issues.
Sometimes, to our delight, we land in an exhilarating place of clarity, enthusiasm, and connection. That’s when team magic happens – when at the end of a session, participants and facilitators alike have arrived at a space of trust, connection, support, gratitude-close-to-joy, and readiness to tackle big challenges.
It’s a fleeting moment. It doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, it’s rare. We can’t guarantee it. It is also not the goal of a session. But when it happens, we savor it. Humility is part of the magic. We know that something special has happened and something will be different, but we don’t boast about it.
For a solid team building session, with or without magic, we don’t have a rigid recipe to offer, but a non-exhaustive list of fluid ingredients to rely on:
- Nurture a slow pace – disrupting our addiction to busyness, drama, and crisis
- Establish a qualitative framework – so that everyone can be as authentic as possible in their participation, sharing unrevealed facets of who they are, and are eager to listen to one another’s shares
- Reduce positional power and hierarchy – by ceding authority to external facilitators (in this case Jean-Pierre and myself) whose job is 1- to invite all participants to show up, and exercise leadership, and 2-harness/highlight the wisdom of the group members
- Elevate all voices – because we all matter and have something to contribute whether we believe it or not, we all will influence the space with our energy styles of leaning in or resisting – whether we are aware of it or not
- Encourage and honor risk-taking – even if it means saying out loud “I’m not ready to take a risk”
- Cherish the learning zone – in which we can make mistakes, be wrong, even silly without shame
- Integrate individuation exercises – learning about each other stories, identities, and struggles while connecting to one another’s shared humanity
- Work on the ego – exploring the negative impact of our protective patterns (to prove, hide and control) and avoiding the victim/blame game or BS narrative
- Amplify the humor – having fun together, not as a distraction from tough conversations, but as a measure of love and safety in the room
- Flag and name icky vibes – the ones that we typically slide under the rug because we don’t know what to do with them, but left unaddressed, undermine the group safety
- Talk about substantial issues, adaptive challenges, and even the elephants in the room – the ones that we typically don’t have the time, energy, and courage to address
- Close the session – no matter where the group lands, make sure to check the temperature of the room, and identify tangible next steps; invite all voices to express what the team experience has been like for them
For us – at The Trust Factory – we don’t see any more important work to do than learning to deeply and meaningfully connect with other people – co-workers, friends, family members – in order to heal, co-create, and eventually, solve our most challenging and important issues.
May 2023 bring more solid relationships and team magic both at home and at work for you all!
Carole and Jean-Pierre