Check Your Ego At The Airport

As someone who facilitates team effectiveness workshops weekly for various clients, I am always intrigued by the intangible factors that lead to the best team effectiveness.  There is plenty of research and literature that points to the ingredients for a high performing team such as the following factors:

  • A mutual goal

  • Complimentary skills

  • Effective communication

  • Trust

  • Psychological safety

Tuckman Model

Working with intact teams can be a challenge because it requires breaking bad habits and resetting expectations.  Most of us are familiar with the famous Bruce Tuckman model of forming, storming, norming and performing.  The model makes a lot of sense and I use to highlight the importance of conflict and tension to team effectiveness.  A team without conflict is a team where people don’t really care.  We tend to argue about the things we care about, so when I find teams avoiding conflict, I see that as a proxy for a larger engagement issue.

Bonding as a team.

Bonding as a team.

Several times a year I get the privilege of running the LeaderSurf leadership development program which is an open enrollment experiential leadership program.  The program is set up to introduce a group of strangers and have them spend a week together bonding and learning together.  Deliberately, we do not share participant bios or other information in advance.  Participants typically meet at the airport upon arrival in Costa Rica.  I am always struck by the way people introduce themselves to strangers they will be spending the week with.  Intros tend to be formal with handshakes, names, titles, company names and where they are from.  The two hour ride from the airport to the hotel always begins awkwardly, but as the pavement disappears and the pitted dirt road shakes and rattles the passengers they become more comfortable with each other as the ride becomes less comfortable.

We begin the program with a round of introductions that are purposely arranged to focus on the individual and help them to leave their titles at home.  The first questions to each participant for intros are:

Team Meeting
  • Why are you here (at the LeaderSurf leadership development program)?

  • What surprised you the most about Costa Rica so far?

  • What are your goals for the week?

  • What was the last physical skill you learned?

  • What do you get paid to do?

We are very deliberate to put each person on the spot to begin with some self reflection, to identify their goals for the week and to recognize that they are going to have to push outside their comfort zones for the week.  When people answer the question, “What do you get paid to do?” by stating their job title, I always push back. No one cares that you are the Vice President of Blah Blah Blah.  What value are you creating for your company is the essence of what we want to know.

These questions are just the beginning of our recipe for building a high performing team for the week.  All meals are eaten as a group, we kick off each day with an icebreaker activity and the group wears coordinated surf shirt for the surfing lessons.  All of this adds to the team environment.

The LeaderServe community service project is always the highlight of the week.  We teach servant leadership by helping those in need.  Past projects have included the installation of water filter systems and the distribution of clothing and school supplies.  For this past program, we installed a swing set in a local village and made repairs on houses.  The swing set project served as a great team challenge and a way to give back to the local community.

The time-lapse video below is a textbook example of a high performing team.  Watch the video and keep the following questions in mind:

·        Who is the leader?

·        Is everyone contributing?

·        Does the team look engaged?

·        Is the team having fun while working?

·        Is the team motivated to complete the task?

I was thoroughly impressed with the team and the way they came together to accomplish the task of assembling the swing set.  No one was in charge, everyone played a role, ideas were heard and shared, there was some debate about how to tackle the project and then there was flawless execution.

One of the participants asked me and the rest of the program participants on the last evening, why this group came together so effectively as a team?  I told him that every group that comes to LeaderSurf has had the same team bonding experience.  The question is why?

My thoughts:

Check your ego at the airport

The week at LeaderSurf is focused on self improvement. To get better, one has to let his or her guard down and be willing to be vulnerable.  Surrounding oneself with others with the same goal and a willingness to be vulnerable opens the opportunity for learning and bonding in new ways.  The LeaderSurf program is set up to build self-awareness, push participants outside their comfort zones through the interactions, the surfing lessons and the travel, and to cause participants to hit pause on their lives and focus on reflecting on who they are and what they are capable of.

We have developed a recipe for a high performing team and each group that has attended LeaderSurf has emerged as a high performing team.  Watching the participants board the van back to the airport as friends and a team is my reward for the week.  I see handshakes replaced by hugs and fond memories of a week of learning together.  The swing set will stand as this team’s contribution to the children of Nosara.