You may know that I work in athletics and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you may also know that before every football game last year I did a leadership lesson with my staff, most of whom were undergraduate college students, but not all. The lessons covered various topics, but really it was just meant as a way bring my team closer together, build some camaraderie and get excited about the upcoming game.
Well, this year is no different and a few of our returning student workers actually started talking about “Bill’s Leadership Lessons” before the season started. I thought that was pretty cool and took that as a sign that they enjoyed the conversations we had and were looking forward to learning more. The first lesson for this football season I developed around the theme of “back to school.” Even though the particular university that I work for is on the quarter system and classes don’t start until the end of September, the local schools all started at the end of August and there was a general feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. That feeling could have also been because of the start of the college football season, but either way, it was a fun time.
For this particular lesson on the morning of the first home game, we were a little pressed for time, so I had to improvise the lesson I had planned into only about 10 minutes. Once everyone had their work station setup and got checked in, we all gathered in a separate room where I had already laid out a bunch of school supplies. Included were a stapler, a pen, a pencil, a binder clip, a paper clip and a few other miscellaneous items you might find in a student’s backpack or on a back to school shopping list. Back to school shopping was probably one of my most favorite things to do growing up, so even when we didn’t really need something, we often got a bunch of new stuff for school.
As everyone entered the room, I asked them all to take one item from the pile of school supplies and form a circle. Once everyone had an item, I asked them to describe the item they chose in as much detail as they could – the function of the item, the size, shape, material it was made of and other unique characteristics. As they did so I ask the others in the group to comment on anything the person speaking may have forgotten about or didn’t think about during their turn to speak.
Once everyone had a chance to go talk about their item, I rounded out the conversation with the metaphor that each item, although unique, is part of a bigger group – school supplies.
Just as every student starts off the new year with a new set of gear to help them learn, so are we a part of a team and a department and a university trying to do something great for our community and the customers we serve. Each of us has our own unique gifts and qualities that make us special and valuable as part of a team.
Also, being that this was back to school season, we all get the opportunity to renew our commitment to each other, to ourselves and to the mission we serve. Back to school time carries a sense of renewal and refreshment that helps remind us that we have the opportunity to learn and grow every day and that we must not waste the valuable resource of time.
Even though this lesson revolved around school supplies, you could perform this exercise with an set of unique objects as a metaphor for group dynamics and team building. I didn’t have a backpack, but that item could be seen as the leader of the group – the thing that keeps everything else together. Without the backpack, you wouldn’t be able to carry all of your supplies with you to and from school. Also, without the supplies, the backpack with not be very useful in helping someone learn. Both are necessary for the success of the other. So also are all the people on our team necessary for the success of the group, the team and the university. In our own small way, we all matter and together we are strong.
Consider how a small example of leadership and team dynamics might help your coworkers or employees benefit from being reminded that they are valuable and them being present really matters. Also, let me know what you think in the comments.