Archive for January, 2010

Can you effectively build half of a team?

I was recently invited to present a workshop for a group of pre-k aides in a local school district.  The Director of Staff Development explained that the aides are an integral part of the team, working side by side along with the classroom teacher each day with the district’s youngest students and asked me to present a three hour workshop on team building.  Having a five year old myself, I was instantly excited by the opportunity.  There was only one catch; the teachers would be across town attending a completely different training.

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Image by bamakodaker via Flickr

My first instinct was to convince the Director to choose another topic.  How could I possibly effectively build a team with only half of the team in the room?

I couldn’t. Could I?

As I dug back through prior presentations, team building exercises, going as far back as college courses 15 years ago, I attempted to find a reference, article, even an icebreaker I could use when part of the team was on a bus headed toward a river somewhere in another county. And for four days straight, I hit wall after wall.

In the end, it was not in the workplace that I found my inspiration, but instead with prayer and my husband’s incessant obsession with ESPN. I know. I hate to admit it. Now I’ll never get him to turn it off.

Although my home is still reeling from the Cowboys’ demise, I’ll use football as an example.  Although the team spends a great deal of time practicing as a complete unit, running their playbook over and over, watching film, and preparing for upcoming opponents, the offense and defense both spend time practicing apart from the team as a whole. They are “a team within a team”, if you will. How many times during a typical game do you hear an announcer say, “That was an offensive breakdown.” or “That is something the defense has been working on all season.”   Cowboys’ fans watching this week heard it more than we care to remember.  The point is, there is the team as a whole, and that is important, but within that team there are groups of people crucial to its success.

This plan of attack allowed me to see the pre-k aides, not only as part of a team working with the teachers, but also as a team themselves.  It was amazing what this simple change of perspective did. First,  I completed the presentation, which I was starting to think of as an impossible task. But more importantly, it gave an identity to a group of people who often viewed themselves as invisible in the organization (think – long snapper).

The comment section of one of the evaluation forms read, “Thank you for letting us know we are visible.”  A traditional team building may not have accomplished this, since they would have probably seen themselves as a less important part of the team, a view paraprofessionals often hold.

Since commitment is one of the most important tenets of an effective team, the aides created their own mission statement, cementing in words their commitment to the organization and their efforts. The statement contained a measurable, tangible goal created and agreed upon by the group.

The second half of the morning focused on John Gottman’s four toxic communication behaviors and how to combat these behaviors. Learning to utilize these strategies helps one function in any relationship, be it their career, their marriage, with their children,or their bowling team.

My lesson learned was that team building doesn’t always mean the entire team must be sitting in the room, on the ropes course, or closing their eyes and falling backwards into each others’ arms.  Sometimes it is equally important to build the team within the team and sometimes the best team strategies are those that translate at work, home, and at play.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Have you had any similar team building experiences?

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January 20, 2010 at 1:56 am Leave a comment


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