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We Win! 5 Musts for Epic Team Building

"Out of the office" Team Building at  National Conference Center  - Leesburg, Virginia

"Out of the office" Team Building at National Conference Center - Leesburg, Virginia

As I stood in front of the group, charged with leading them in a 90 minute team building activity, I was inspired by the cohesiveness they brought to the activity, having spent the previous 30 hours bonding, building and reinforcing the ties that brought them together. The group, an entirely volunteer board, pressed pause, and left behind the daily push-pull of emails, text messages, staff meetings, agenda making and dozens of other responsibilities (including their families), for the greater cause of coming together as a unit. They realized without this retreat, forging solid bonds is sometimes a difficult thing to do.

What I walked away with was something entirely different than I had expected. I only had a brief sliver of time with them (just about 90 minutes), but its impression will have a permanent mark in mind. It was me who walked away inspired, motivated and completely charged up. Although I already knew many of the people in the group (we all belong to the same Washington, D.C. area chapter of an association called Meeting Professionals International), the filter I will see them through from this point moving forward will be forever changed.

My takeaway and five points I think are valuable when considering any team building program:

Take it out of the office. Although short programs that will encourage team building can be done in the office, there is a huge value placed in doing team building outside the four walls of an office. Just the change of environment can make a huge impact. Meals, socializing and conversations all happen outside the team building activities, but this, in and of itself provides a great opportunity for team building too.

Ground rules should be set at the onset of any team building activity, allowing for open and honest conversation.

Encourage open, honest conversation. Ground rules should be set at the onset of the activity allowing for open and honest conversation. Team building provides an environment for change, growth and improvement for the greater good. Although bonding is obviously one of the results of team building, the sharing of ideas freely will help everyone grow in the group. Natural leaders will rise during this program and you will be amazed with the results.

Pass the pillow. I witnessed this firsthand and it was truly inspiring. At the tail end of the second full day of activities, everyone in the group had an opportunity to discuss what they have gotten out of the team building program. A pillow passed from one person to another helped control the conversation, if you had the pillow, the floor was yours. Even the quietest of participants (yes, there are always a few shy ones) had an audience. It was an emotional time. What I found most interesting about this portion of the team building retreat, was that this was an unscheduled portion of the program, but still had a tremendous impact on all attendees.

Team building provides an environment for change, growth and improvement for the greater good.

Open the no judging zone. You want everyone involved in the program to feel as though any comments they make or views they present will be heard, discussed and a part of the conversation without judgement. I sat in on several conversations before and after the 90 minute team building activity I facilitated that, outside of this environment, I feel would have never occurred for fear of statements made would have been judged by others.  A byproduct of spending two days with others?  The lines between business and personal become blurred and your judgement of them becomes less critical; you begin to understand what motivates and inspires those you are with. Keep this time as a judgement free time.

Stretch limits and explore new ideas. Team building activities challenge you to think outside the box. Although there are hundreds, more likely thousands of activities, they do not have to be physically demanding. When I pulled up to the retreat, there were companies doing ropes challenges and obstacle courses on the grounds of the retreat. Alternatively,  I have seen tabletop chocolate bridge building, television trivia and game show fun provide a great opportunity for team building as well. Inherent to the activity are the positive results when you have an opportunity to brainstorm with others. Troubleshooting solutions while breaking down obstacles and removing barriers are common, encouraged and expected results. This translates very well when the team building activities are completed and re-entry to the “real world” occurs.

Inherent to the activity are the positive results when you have an opportunity to brainstorm and bond with others.

It’s not what you do or even how you do your team building, but it is the sheer fact that you are doing it that creates an impact. Team building does just that, it builds your team. If you have not done it for a while and you are in a position to make it happen, I would encourage you to do it, soon. It will make a difference. What I found most interesting is that each time I go out to facilitate a team building project, I am the one that comes back pumped up, motivated and inspired, ready for action and feeling like a part of the team. We all win!



Marty and the Tin Box

At what point does the man your mother marries stop being your step-father and become your real father? Looking back, in my case, about 45 years ago, my step-father Marty became my father. Leadership, influence, dedication, strength and John Wayne style grit are words that I would have used 20 years ago to describe my dad Marty. Today, as I stand by his side, along with my mom and my two brothers and my sister, I use those words to describe a great man, and not just because he’s my father. His body, weakened by age and condition, his brain, strengthened by more determination than ever. He is fighting the biggest battle of his life and he is doing it completely on his terms. He will go when he decides it’s time to go. This man of steel, my father Marty, is the strongest, toughest man I have ever known. I hope one day to be fearless like my dad Marty.

This man of steel, my father Marty, is the strongest, toughest man I have ever known. I hope one day to be fearless like my dad Marty.

As I sit in the hospital waiting room, writing this piece, a machine breathes for my dad Marty, medication keeps his blood pressure at appropriate levels. Tubes, so many tubes, too many tubes, keep his body going. I share this, not so you will feel bad for Marty or for my family. He would tell you this is no big deal, just a hurdle to cross. A bump in the road. If he could talk, he’d probably tell me to get him on his feet, it’s Tuesday night and he’s got a poker game to get to. I tell you this about my dad Marty so you can see his resolve. During visiting hours in ICU our family waits, we share stories, laugh laughs and talk about lessons learned from Marty over the years. In between laughs, we cry and then laugh some more. I go back to check on him. Marty motions for me to get a pad and a pencil, he’s got something to say, and say it he will, until I get it right.

We run through the alphabet one letter at a time, then he spells out the letters using a finger, his hand too weak to write with a pen. Through me, we spell out -- “The Tin Box.” It’s upstairs. In the drawer by his desk. I know exactly where it is because he showed it to me three times over the past 6 months. He knew it would eventually come down to The Tin Box. I know what The Tin Box is and I also know what it represents. It’s the box that contains all the important papers. Financial papers. Stocks, bank statements, important phone numbers. It seems inevitable when you are in your late 80’s you have to tell your children about your tin box.

It seems inevitable when you are in your late 80’s you have to tell your children about your tin box.

At a time when the beeps of medical equipment provide a steady stream of distractions and the smell of sanitizer and cleaning solution linger in the air, most patients on the ICU floor are focused on their pain, condition and all that ails them. Not my dad Marty. Marty has laser focus. The Tin Box. At a time when anyone else would focus on themselves, my dad Marty is focused on us. He wants no loose ends, nothing to remain a question. He wants my mom to not have to worry. The Tin Box has all the answers. At some point we all need a tin box.

If I had my own tin box, I’d want it to have answers too. My tin box would remind me to say I love you more to the people that are important in my life. My tin box would tell me to spend more time with my kids and my wife. It would tell me that success is far more than a bank account balance, a fancy car and an expensive watch. My tin box would remind me to never go to bed angry, to sing louder in the shower, to burn those fancy candles that I keep near the good dishes, to hug with vigor, to stay out a little later with friends, to not check my email quite so often, to shut off my computer a little earlier, to not worry if my bank statement doesn’t balance every month. My tin box holds the answers to life’s questions.

My tin box holds the answers to life’s questions.

But most importantly, my tin box would remind me of all the great lessons that I learned from my dad Marty over four decades of having him in my life. For now, I just want him to know how much I love him and appreciate all he has done for our family and especially for my mom. I could never thank him enough for being her best friend and to this day, making her feel like the most important woman in the world.



6 Ingredients for Effective Communication

I'm going take the liberty of making a couple of assumptions about you as I write this post. Assumption number one, you want to improve your business relationships. Assumption number two, you agree there is a direct correlation between effective communication and building meaningful relationships - defined - the more effectively you communicate, the better your relationships will be. If we aren't on the same page, you either have more business and money than you can possibly manage (seek out a great charity) or you are curious about why the heck someone would possibly think like me but you can't look away, kind of like a road side traffic wreck. In the case of the latter, I will respectfully disagree with you and ask you to continue reading. I am asking nicely and hope you are open minded.

Be sure your brain is engaged before putting mouth into gear.

Since I am of the belief that effective communication is paramount to producing winning (and profitable) relationships, I want to share with you the secret sauce ingredients found in relationship building. As I am sure you realize, I am not the inventor of the secret sauce, but I have been a student of the ingredient gathering and compilation that makes up the recipe and I have written a book on the subject. (Info below on getting a copy). Here are the 6 secret sauce ingredients for effective communication:

Focus on listening, not responding

I have witnessed people that are so excited about adding their point to a conversation that they don't spend any time actually listening to the conversation. What's rather interesting, is often times their point will be made by the person they are communicating with if they just kept their mouth closed long enough.

Be open minded

This world is an amazing place filled with differing opinions and points of view. Being open minded helps us expand to the world outside of our own bubble. As awesome as we know we are, great ideas will find their way to us if we remain open to the possibility that there are other opinions out there. Plus, it's a great way for people to get to see exactly how flexible we are. There is no such thing as a correct opinion. Facts can be right or wrong, opinions cannot.

Provide empathy

When you show empathy you become relatable and people will want to open up to you. In business, being empathetic provides an opportunity for you to prove you are a human being, capable of feelings and emotion. Let your competition provide facts, figures, features and benefits. There is plenty of time for business later, but for now, take your time and allow your customers to share stories. It's your chance to show interest, empathy and understanding.

Don’t be so quick to resolve an issue

Maybe the person you are communicating with just wants a sounding board. Holding back a potential solution will be more challenging to my male readers than my female readers. Guys, don't jump in so fast and fix the problem. There will be plenty of time later for problem solving, but only if asked. Right now, be available to lend an ear, be a partner in the conversation and stay out of the sleuthing business.

Be present

Realize it takes at least two to have a conversation and if you are on your cell, texting and doing any number of other distracting things, you are being disrespectful. Also realize that a phone buzzing on a tabletop, pocket or purse is almost as bad. I turned the vibrate and ring features off a few years ago and I would challenge you to do the same.

Provide feedback if asked

Here is your chance to insert your humble opinion or provide the facts. Fair warning, all of the good that you have done by being present, empathetic, open minded and focused can become unraveled if you make the person you are talking to feel like an idiot by providing harsh or negative feedback. Be sensitive when providing feedback. Even if you know they have their facts wrong, it's ok. You were wrong a few times in your life. Help them find the facts and be understanding in the process. We've all been there.

There is a direct correlation between effective communication and building meaningful relationships.

So now that you have the secret recipe, what will you do differently? For some of you, it may be a matter of silencing your cell phone and turning off the vibrate feature. For others it may be a matter of focusing a bit more. I'd love to hear from you. What are some of your secret sauce ingredients?

Author's note: I wrote Nice Guys Finish First, available now on Amazon as a paperback. Kindle version will be released Sunday March 15. The book is ranked as a #1 Best Seller in the business category of Communication. I am looking for bloggers and readers to help spread my message and information about the release. Click here for details.