Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cornicabra, Abracadabra - It's Team Building Time!

I want you to join me. Look at all the things that people built. You might see a mess. What I see are people inspired by each other, and by you. People take things from what you have and are making something new out of it.

-Emmet, The Lego Movie

Team building. Just let the word sit there for a few minutes. Say it aloud if you'd like. Maybe it's too painful to say out loud because you've just remembered every team building event you've ever attended in your professional life. Did you have to make something out cardboard or maybe produce? How about making it through a ropes or obstacle course with co-workers you don't quite trust? I know, you had to go on a boat in the middle of a river for an entire day and there was no alcohol. Or snacks. I know how you feel; I've experienced my share of painful team buildings myself over the years. I always challenge myself to think of two things during team building activities:
  1. The intention is positive. My boss is not doing this to torture us.
  2. I will get something out of the experience. Now that thing might be something small like I didn't tell a co-worker they were lazy when not helping with the task at hand but that's still something.
Back in October, I moved into a new role at work. I've been with this company for almost nine years (which is a long time these days) and have had a variety of jobs and roles over that time. For the last three years, I've been managing learning and development programs for a specific division of the company. My focus was very product and client/industry driven with some soft skills training and other development opportunities thrown in when I had time. I admit that was coming to a point where burnout was inevitable and I was becoming more dissatisfied with my work. While I love the product I was helping support, I didn't love the mechanical feeling of my job. It felt rote, like reciting a multiplication table. I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere with anyone despite evidence that proved otherwise. I know those feelings are related to my personality; I want everyone to be happy and get what they need. That is almost impossible when your job is to train people. In general, people are very passive when it comes to learning. I've experienced the attitude from many people that training is done to people and that makes it challenging.

My new role is still in learning and development but now I'm less product training focused (in theory) and more focused on actual learning and development. I'm working on creating learning programs that I believe will help foster a culture of learning at my company...once they get rolled out to the workforce. I work with some wonderful people and like Corky in Waiting for Guffman, I have a vision. I feel more energized about work these days despite some of the frustrations and the slow movement I've been experiencing on some fronts. Our small team has accomplished a lot since October and I'm proud of that.

Which brings me back to team building. This week I participated in a full team offsite meeting complete with brainstorming, discussions of synergy, and you guessed it, team building! My actual team is rather small but we belong to a larger team in the grander picture of our organization and this is the group that I would be team building with. I don't know all of them well; we're spread out across two offices. Despite being part of the same group within the organization, not all of jobs intersect all that frequently. Getting to know what people actually do at work was very exciting. 

What I was most looking forward to was the team building activity. I knew what was going to happen because I was involved in the conversations around planning it. We were going on a scavenger hunt at Jungle Jim's. What could be more fun than a team building scavenger hunt at the most unique grocery store I've ever been to?

Our base camp before the scavenger hunt; sort of Medieval Times-y.
Hands down, this was one of the best team building activities I've ever participated in. It was fun, a little silly, and totally random. We got to walk around the entire store multiple times and find weird and wonderful things all around Jungle Jim's. I was part of Team Giraffe and spent the hunt with two co-workers I don't know very well strategizing on where to find Cornicabras (they're olives) and where we might locate penguins in the store (by the frozen food obviously). My sub-team (we broke up into smaller groups to cover the most ground) relied on me to navigate around Jungle Jim's because I had been there before (so I had purpose). I did surprisingly well for only having visited once and being incredibly directionally challenged. We finished in time and my team won the scavenger hunt (no prize just bragging rights). We ended day one with wine and beer tastings, a great dinner, and cake. It was fun, different, and included snacks. In my opinion, that is a perfect combination. It didn't feel forced like so many team buildings I've experienced in the past. To me, that forced bonding is the reason why so many of those events fail or at least are viewed negatively. Forcing people to bond isn't really bonding.

Jungle Jim's has an event center. You can get married there.
I recently wrote a blog post about workplace friendships and have a personal interest in relationships in the workplace. Most of us spend a lot of time at our jobs which means we spend a lot of our time with the people with whom we work. I don't believe that you have to like everyone (that sounds exhausting) but it's important to find connections with people when you can. As I wrote in my original post, these types of relationships help with productivity, connectedness, and ultimately create an environment where people feel pride in their work. Personally, I don't want to work at a place where I feel like no one cares about what we do or the people around them. That sounds horrifying and stressful. I want my work to have meaning and the relationships I have at work help drive that meaning. Taking time to build on those relationships in a fun way helps people bond while not forcing them to do so. It creates shared memories which help move relationships along.

As we moved into day two, we had already started down a path of thinking differently about the ways in which we interact individually, by teams, and across our department. I was responsible for some of the content during the second day. This made me both excited and a little tense as it would be my first presentation to my brand new team. It went well and several people have mentioned how it gave them something to think about related to how they do their jobs. I am not naive enough to believe that everyone enjoyed the event and the meetings as much as I did, but I do know that there were people who participated as active learners and came with an open mind and got something out of the event. Like Emmet tells President Business, people can be inspired by each other to do exciting and new things or to think differently about what we do now. Inspiration and possibility - wonderful ideas to move us forward.

Everything isn't always awesome but when you're part of team and know that others are there to help you it certainly makes everything feel awesome. (And now that song is in your head - my work here is done.)

Not my team but we could all use more Legos in our lives.

Coming soon to the Island: I'm doing everything wrong when it comes to summer and fun, we'll take a trip back to Dinosaur Land, and I discuss summer movies. 

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