And by waxing melancholy, I don’t mean getting my old car waxed. Although if an old car has poignant memories for you, you could wax melancholy. I’m thinking about my dog Martha. Martha passed away this week. She was fourteen years old and had been the best family pet anyone could ever want. Losing Martha put me in a melancholy place and brought back fourteen years of memories; not just of Martha, but of the life we’ve lived. Seeing two toddlers turn into teens, navigating love, friendships and professional changes along the way.
We were never supposed to adopt Martha. My wife, Julie, had been to the animal shelter with our two children and they fell in love with Martha the moment they saw her. Julie told the kids they’d have to get Dad’s approval since we already had one dog and two cats. She assumed I’d be the practical voice in the matter and say no to any additional pets. That’s my usual role in our family, the practical voice. You know how this ends; I went to the adoption center with my kids, took one look at the puppy, gathered her up in my arms and took her home, much to Julie’s surprise. “What happened to you?” she wanted to know, “I was counting on you to say no!” Without warning I changed our dance, our usual roles. I acted uncharacteristically and by doing so I changed Julie’s role too. All of a sudden she assumed the practical role, since I had abandoned it! It was refreshing and empowering for me, and it gave my wife empathy for the person who has the role of being the pragmatic one – not always an enviable position.
Of course this has me thinking about team dynamics. I changed the dance in my family team and set off a chain of events that turned out wonderfully. Our team acquired a new puppy, providing learning lessons for our junior team members(kids), increased empathy among our senior team members(parents) and better understanding all around for everyone’s roles and how valid each of those roles is in keeping our team running optimally.
Change your dance and see what happens. If you want something to change within your team, then you have to change something. It’s not enough to talk about change, you have to actually do something different. This requires risk and having to deal with the unexpected but that’s okay! Team building is about risk taking, opening up communication in new ways, trial and error, changing roles with honest discussion about how that feels and where it all leads. Although specific outcomes vary with every group we work with, we always see increased empathy and greater awareness of the importance of each team member’s role after a team building program. This is a great starting place to effect growth and innovation.
Try some team building or take home a puppy and see what happens. After fourteen years with my dog Martha, the benefits proved to be incalculable. Martha, I’ll miss you.