I recently wrote about some distinctly poor team building experiences I and other people have had. Obviously this is not the case with all team building and I am sure many people can give positive and helpful examples, however I was surprised at the overwhelmingly negative response I got to the phrase “team building.” Teams in general though– a shared goal and shared endeavour - are important. Given this I have been working on developing delivery of “mindful teams.”
So what are mindful teams? Well the first question really to ask is what is mindfulness? I have recently seen a magazine, which seems to essentially boil down mindfulness to a way of parting with your money – everything was about buying more things to make you more mindful. This is not mindfulness!!
The most accepted definition of mindfulness come from John Kabat Zinn (who has been referred to as the father of mindfulness). He says;
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”1
Another way of stating this is
“Mindfulness means moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time as best we can. In the process, we become more in touch with our life as it is unfolding.”2
Therefore a mindful team is one that chooses to pay attention to all members, without judgement, see what is there now and accepts the team and it’s members.
All good so far. Nice and easy. If the first part of mindfulness is about paying attention. To see what is really there, and not what is believed to be there. That sounds like it wouldn‘t be too hard, and yet consider it in reality.
It is easy to hear one side of a story, to see one thing and make a judgement based upon this. It is easy to label a person, and then use that label to justify their and other’s behaviours. This is stereotyping – a means of using quickly gained information or prior knowledge to simplify a social situation.3 And stereotyping can be useful – do you have a friend of whom you can say “they always exaggerate,” “they are never serious” or “they are bad at maths?” Or maybe someone reminds you of someone else – and you use that information to make quick judgements. Miss Marple was the epitome of this!4 Nine times out of ten your view of that person may be correct. But what about the tenth time? When you apply the stereotype incorrectly. That time after the previous nine when something is different. Can you be bothered to look and see what is really there? Allow your beliefs to alter? Many people can’t. Take the situation of the boy who cried wolf,5 His actions had formed a stereotype belief in people’s minds, so no one was willing to look, investigate further and see the truth in this situation in the here and now.
Being mindful enough to challenge prior beliefs is not easy, which is why stereotypes can be so persistent. It is time consuming, can create cognitive dissonance 6 (a sense of unease trying to believe conflicting ideas) and may even simply confirm prior beliefs. Yet if a team is to be mindful it is necessary.
The second part of a mindful team is to be non-judgemental. This again is an uphill struggle. We all have our like and dislikes, of people, of ways of working and of behaviours. We often label certain things as “good, polite, bad or rude.” If you give something to someone we expect a “thank you” and when one is omitted that can lead to a judgement. If someone were to go to the front of a queue, (and I am speaking as someone who is English!) it would be seen very negatively (and note the cultural implications there). Again there is nothing inherently wrong with expecting certain “manners” indeed these expectations can be said to be a social lubrication, but if we are to be mindful, we need to be able to accept any and all behaviours without initial judgement. To see where that action comes from and hold it, with kindness, and see it for what it actually is.
A mindful team is one in which the present time is the most important. It does not rely on past successes (or failures), on a built-up reputation, that means more than is there today. It does not rely on future aims and ambitions, on what could, or could not be; or on preserving an image. It is there for now and working within this present time. Given the changes that business and teams face this is essential. Acceptance of past knowledge is great. It gives a base on which to build, acceptance that there will be future challenges is also great, it gives something to look to, but we can never be truly future proof, and the past will never be all there is. Teams need to be operating in the now, and adapting as and when things happen.
The final part of a mindful team is being inclusive; not a competition. This of course goes against the concept of using “team building” as a tool in recruitment, which I mentioned in my earlier post. Can we every really be competitive whilst also being non-judgemental and kind? If we are being mindful then we need to appreciate not just the team’s outcomes but the team members, and their individual value. A friend put this as we need to value the people not just results. Again, in my earlier post I mentioned the seeming need to homogenise a team, to try and bring everyone in line, which can be destructive, and ultimately may not help in the team’s goals. Mindfulness is not just non-judgmental, but also operates with kindness. An aim is to hold your attention on an aspect and explore it with kindness. This means that “irritating” person; that “lazy” colleague; and that person you avoid whenever possible need non-judgmental kindness.
Well that’s not a tall order then!
But there is one final point. This is done deliberately. No-one is suggesting it is easy or comes naturally. It isn’t something that can happen overnight; it is something a business or team chooses; something which can be worked towards. By a business opting into a mindful approach both team members and leaders can gain confidence, loose stress and be more productive. And who wouldn’t want that?
This is something we at Fire and Air have been looking at. Find out more about our mindful team days.
- Kabat Zinn, J (2013) Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, Piatkus, ISBN-10: 0749958413
- Myla Kabat-zinn, Jon Kabat-Zinn (2008). “Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting”, Hyperion, ISBN-10: 0786883146
- Christie, A (2008) The Thirteen problems, Harper Collins, ISBN-10: 0007120869