Mix mind, body, games and nature to grow great teams and leaders
A past client reflects on what stuck for him
Recently, a past client gave me some feedback about our distinctive work together. I had checked in to ask whether that was paying off for him.
Over a year ago, he and nine of his peers had partnered with me to accelerate their formation as a high-performing team. They were all co-enrolled in a training program that gave them just 10 months to succeed on individual and mutual goals, with the big purpose of advancing their respective careers.
Our approach to jump-starting this bunch into an effective team was a full day of outdoor embodied action learning. Members went outside to puzzle, play, stretch, test, explore, compete, strategize, organize, quit, persevere, cooperate, innovate, evaluate, interpret, discover, … all by choice. And all on their own terms, within certain constraints. They undertook carefully curated challenges requiring coordinated mental and physical exertion. Some of the physical stuff was pretty strenuous.
Why this approach?
As the old proverb warns, “Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.” This wisdom pervades embodied action learning, which catalyzes whole-brain, whole-person, whole-system development. * The somatic experience that participants have activates their entire sensory-motor nervous system. That helps to connect their emotional-heart intelligence (EQ) and body-gut intelligence (BQ) with their head smarts (IQ). When it’s really rocking, embodied action learning cultivates a team’s conversational and relational intelligences (CQ and RQ), too. * It also fosters extensive self-awareness — a top predictor of leadership success. ^
Stake the way to your 'true north'
Taking all of this outdoors and into nature imparts additional human performance benefits generated by spaciousness, fresh air, and even the color green. ~
And gamifying it helps transform the learning into positive behavior change. How? Making a task into a game designs relevance, rewards, community, and measurement into participants’ overall experience. These factors move people from reluctantly adapting their conduct (or even resisting that shift), to joining in fun and challenging activities that they want to complete. In this way, gamifying change adoption and readiness promotes the long-term success of whatever initiatives a team pursues next. #
… So back to my past client and his team mates: The program that I facilitated for this group was pre-tailored to their specific goals and purpose. It also flexed as the day unfolded, to serve their emerging needs and aspirations as a single striving collective of 10 evolving individuals.
Last month, I asked this former client if that joint effort last year is making a positive difference now. And if so, how?
His response was a resounding ‘yes.’ He said that, more than a year later, our intensive eight-hour venture together is coming into play almost daily.
What’s stuck with him most since then was declaring his ‘guiding light’ — a brief reflection and story-telling exercise that I cued up early in our day. Every team member joined in, and it built on previous mind-body group activities aimed at raising comprehensive self-awareness. By first searching privately inside, and then sharing out their own narratives, each of them calibrated his or her personal development compass to point to the team’s ‘true north,’ through our brief time span together and beyond. ^
Be all in, and lead from solid support
Two more experiences had a lasting impact on him. One was realizing how total success demands leaning in to a team endeavor with 100% — not 85, not 97 — mutual commitment. And also discovering what that 100 percent graphically looks like and viscerally feels like. *
The other experience that impacted him was leading his mates (plus a few dozen others) over a barrier that could not be overcome solo, and doing so only with their robust and appropriate support from behind.
Ten months after our work together, this past client of mine successfully completed his training program. Then he promptly landed himself an economics post inside a major professional sports league.
These accomplishments are laudable though not surprising: he’s a standout team player who brought skill, enthusiasm and a can-do attitude into our day of individual and group formation. Moreover, he displayed a responsive mindset that showed healthy regard for himself, for his team mates, and for the greater community.
Mind your character
Mindset is key to character development, another central feature of the coaching/facilitation that clients undertake with me. Distinct from fixed personality 'types' or social styles, dynamically balanced character strengths help us successfully lead self and others though diverse challenges, with agility and grace. +
Developing that dynamic balance requires self-awareness (tying back into that earlier theme above). A healthy well-rounded character doesn't just equip us to walk the talk. It empowers us to respond contextually, through emerging conditions, while being authentic. And all of this generates positive influence with others — crucial for leaders aiming to create and sustain strong organizational culture. +
In his note to me last month linking that day of outdoor embodied action learning with his current situation, my former client wrote: “I lean on my co-workers every day, it’s nothing I can do completely on my own and it feels good to admit that I need help…” As an extrovert who also freely admits to talking a lot, he cited as well the ongoing value of listening more — something he mindfully played out with his team mates last year, on a pivotal day in a green field under an open sky.
Want to build a culture based on strong, agile character?
Or jump-start and sustain your own effective team —
for faster results that stick?
Contact me to learn how:
— Laura J. Nigro, MS
(Image courtesy of Triangle Training, Inc.)
Here are several business and scientific references for these key elements that I blend in my general approach to developmental coaching and facilitation. They correspond to passages marked above, via one or more of the following symbols: * ^ ~ # +
- * Thompson, J. (Feb 20, 2012). "Embodied Cognition: What It Is & Why It’s Important" Psychology Today.
- * Bernstein, E. (Oct 9, 2017). "Does Your Gut Always Steer You Right?" The Wall Street Journal, V. (Nov 18, 2013).
- ^ Lipman, V. (Nov 18, 2013). "All Successful Leaders Need This Quality: Self-Awareness" Forbes.
- ^ Gowin, J. (Jun 6, 2011). "Why Sharing Stories Brings People Together" Psychology Today.
- ~ Bratmana G.N., Hamilton J.P., Hahn K.S., Daily G.C., & Gross J.J. (May 28, 2015). "Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation" PNAS, vol. 112 no. 28. 8567–8572. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510459112.
- ~ Atchley R.A., Strayer D.L., & Atchley P. (Dec 12, 2012). "Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings" PLOS ONE, 7(12), [e51474]. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051474.
- ~ Lichtenfeld S, Elliot A.J., Maier M.A., & Pekrun R. (Mar 16, 2012). "Green Facilitates Creative Performance"
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(6).
- # Marmura R., Robie C. & Shell, D. (Jul 2017). "Gaming Your Change: How to Make Organizational Readiness Fun and Measurable" (white paper) Tier1 Performance Solutions.
- # Burke, B. (2014). Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things.
- # + Proyer, R. T. & Ruch, W. (2011). "The virtuousness of adult playfulness: the relation of playfulness with strengths of character" Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice, 1:4. doi:10.1186/2211–1522–1–4.
- + Harzer, C. & Ruch, W. (2014). “The role of character strengths for task performance, job dedication, interpersonal facilitation, and organizational support” Human Performance, 27, 183–205. doi:10.1080/08959285.2014.913592
- + Kiel, F. (2015). Return On Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win. Harvard Business Review Press.
- + Cashman, K. (Mar 17, 2015). "Character-Driven Leadership" Forbes.
Updated 8 Sep 2019
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