Adventure, Company Culture
I’ve just come back from a two-week Cricket Without Boundaries trip to Kenya, using cricket as a vehicle for talking about HIV prevention and gender equality. It’s the second trip I’ve been on with CWB and both times the team dynamics have worked exceptionally in the most trying of circumstances (such as having to organise 600 excited children who don’t speak English as their first language and get across all our key messages while having fun!). The teams vary in age from 18 to retirement, include all manner of professions, and have minimal preparation time. So, I found myself thinking “why do the team dynamics work so well at CWB?” and “what can I, and Propellernet, learn from CWB?”
It’s a topic that we openly discussed while we were on the trip. By the end of week 1, it was still exciting each time we arrived at a school but it felt comfortable. Despite only meeting most of the team a week earlier for our training weekend before our trip, and meeting our Kenyan coaches only on arrival, we had moved through Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing in just a few days! I had total faith in our Kenyan coaching leader Niko and our team leader Sara, and I’d very quickly learnt the strengths and weaknesses of those around me. Fortunately, there were very few weaknesses!
I, however, have several weaknesses – in particular, I’m not a trained coach and I’ve learnt all I know from CWB trips, so if plan A and B fail, I have less to fall back on than those that have coached cricket for many years. That said, I also have a strength on CWB trips which is that I almost never have a preference for what activity I get involved in – I want to do the thing that others don’t want or find daunting – which means that the leader knows that they have somewhere to go if all else fails. If someone needs to go to town on the back of a bike to get food and water for everyone I’ll do that. If they’d like me to do the introduction to a few hundred children and pupils, I’ll do that.
By the end of the trip it became a running joke – when we arrived at schools and others were keenly saying “I’ll take batting!” or “I’ll take the bowling drill!” I’d hang back and see where there was a gap and fill that. By the end of the trip, my teammates were saying “Come on Ed, tell us what you’d most like to do!” So much so that I felt the need to say to Sara that I thought the role I was playing was a valuable one but that I was equally happy doing more leading roles if that was helpful.
Crucially our CWB team was a very happy one with a collective understanding that we were there to do something important. Even though we discussed each day with a retrospective once we’d finished (over a drink) and there were sometimes things that we disagreed on, you’d never know that when we were with the children, as we came together around an important vision. When we’re under pressure at work I’ve often reminded those around me that “we’re not building parachutes” but on the CWB trips the messages we get across can literally save lives and the importance of what we’re doing strengthens our teamwork and makes us more effective rather than consumes us with worry.
How to get that team-vibe where we all come together around a joint goal and take collective pleasure in team accomplishments is something that has always fascinated me. It’s something that I’ve had varying successes with at work given the several different working environments I’ve found myself in. It’s not something that has a one-size-fits-all answer, but I have learnt a few things from the teams I’ve played sport in both as a child and as an adult, from sports administration, from my various work teams and from my CWB trips, so I’ve made a few observations below.
We’re lucky that we have many of these traits within Propellernet, but there’s always further to go. The value of the team pulling together is intangible and yet is so vital – it’s an area that I find my mind turning back to in idle moments all the time. I don’t think I’ll ever crack it, either as a team member or as a leader, so always keen to hear your thoughts and suggestions – email@example.com.