Every one of your teammates is fighting an invisible dragon.
As a coach, it took me longer than I would like to admit to develop an awareness of the personal battles that each one of my players were struggling with once they left the court.
It was important for me to understand that not all players come from or go home to a great situation.
That insight was the result of a young man that played varsity basketball for me years ago… he was perpetually late for morning and weekend practices. When I asked why he was late, he would shrug his shoulders or just say “sorry, coach.”
My commitment to team rules mandated that he stay after for extra conditioning – and my frustration with his tardiness kept me from applauding or encouraging him as often as I probably should have.
It was only after our season that I learned more about his home situation. He was living with his grandmother, and dealing with a couple of other personal issues that many adults would struggle with, and yet maintaining strong grades and trying to be a good teammate.
Sometimes, our greatest regrets are for kindnesses not done.
Since that experience, I have wondered how many other players and colleagues I have neglected to thank or encourage in the past that were battling unkown dragons and needed to hear a word of support.
Sometimes, just like us, our teammates want to feel like they matter. Everyone wants to feel cared about and supported.
When your teammates leave the locker room, or classroom, or board room, do you know what situation or struggles they are going home to?
The likelihood is that you have very little idea what invisible dragons they are fighting to slay outside of your team project or workplace.
Some would argue that those dragons and circumstances are not your concern – but even if you do not know specifically what species of dragon or adversity they are experiencing in their personal life, just being aware that every one of your teammates is struggling with something may cause you to reconsider the importance of your daily interactions.
However thin the thread of your relationship with certain teammates may be, it could possibly be the only lifeline they have to hold onto.
So tomorrow (or today!), when you pass by someone in the hall, or spend a few minutes in a meeting, I hope you will follow these three bits of advice…
1. Remember that all people are struggling with something you don’t know about
Every person brings baggage or worries to work, and your teammates could be carrying in anything from a personal health concern to a financial hardship of some kind. Whether they are struggling through an argument with a spouse or a relative with an addiction, it helps to remind yourself that there is likely something on their mind that you may not be aware of…
2. Never be stingy with praise or encouragement – it is free, and it is priceless
People are inundated with criticism, and a steady diet of it will soon drain them of the energy and motivation to perform at their best. Help fill their bucket with sincere praise and appreciation and encouraging comments – you will be surprised how they respond!
3. Ask deeper questions to build stronger bonds with the people on your team
Your teammates will probably not immediately open up and share the specifics of their situation, but trust is a three legged stool, and perhaps the most important leg is our ability to show genuine concern for the well-being of others. Find out about their kids and their hobbies, or ask them a few fun questions to get to know them better. The bonds you create through simple conversations and inquiry can be incredibly powerful and appreciated.
Team building events can be defined in dozens of interesting and diverse ways, and can be about improving communication, or accountability, or awareness, or group morale and laughter.
But perhaps the simplest definition is the most accurate. Team building is about relationships.
When you arrive to work and greet your teammates, consider that (just like you) they are fighting to slay invisible dragons in other areas of their life.
Leadership occurs one conversation at a time. Your interactions are an opportunity to strengthen bonds and support each other with words of kindness and encouragement.
But do not do this only to ensure that your season or project or test scores meet your fans’ expectations. Do this because, as people, kindness and encouragement is the fuel that allows us to continue fighting those dragons we all have.
If are looking for a way to inspire your people to work together with better awareness and positive communication, I encourage you to consider a day of teambuilding for teachers.