Love in Teams: The Foundation of Workplace Wellbeing
I am not ashamed to say that I love teams. I have been fortunate to work with many wonderful teams in many different organizations. From financial services, to not-for-profit and state government, to professional associations, I have had the privilege to work for people who were motivated and innovative.
Along the way, though, I have seen some teams that, at least to start with, were not working so well. Sometimes team members have felt disconnected from each other and from the organizational purpose. Other times, they have been overworked and felt under-appreciated. But whoever they were, there has been a common thread. All the teams and team members I have worked with have been looking for connection and purpose. They want to get behind what they are doing and find a sense of pride in what they do. They want to belong to the community in which they work. They want to feel like part of something bigger.
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When I was younger, I thought that a sense of purpose in the workplace was only for senior leadership. It was not for me, an intern, nor for my colleague in his first job at the firm. How wrong I was. My father taught me early on to value everyone I work with, because when there is a sense of shared purpose, hierarchy and pecking order fade into the background. We all have our part to play. The cafeteria staff may not know how to code a piece of software, but how they engage with me and what they feed me affect my energy levels and sense of well-being. The building security guard may not be able to perform open heart surgery, but that guard makes sure that you get safely to where you need to be, and can focus on your role without distraction or anxiety. The bus driver may not know how to design a bridge, but she makes sure that your children get to school safely so that you can go about your day without worry. All these connections build our community and extend our team.
Who is on your team?
In the last year, my teams have looked a little different from what I have been used to. Instead of being on-site, working side by side with my colleagues, I have been working more from home and working on new types of projects. One of my favorites is Wholebeing Institute (WBI)’s Embodied Positive Psychology Summit. The inaugural event took place last year, and we are running our second event this May at Kripalu.
When an old colleague asked me what it’s like to work alone, I looked at her aghast. “Oh, I don’t work alone!” I exclaimed. “I have a huge team!”
It was her turn to look surprised.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, “I thought you were working from home?”
It is true that I sometimes work in my pajamas. On cold days, I may not leave the house but I am not alone. Our team comprises so many people in so many roles, it is often hard to keep track of them all.
For starters, there are my wonderful colleagues at WBI. This circle is small and works so well together, supporting each other and complementing each other’s skills. Then there is the wonderful network of people at Kripalu—from program management to production support to continuing education and registration. Once we are on site at Kripalu, that team expands to include kitchen staff, housekeeping, and myriad people who make the venue run like clockwork and enhance the experience of the summit.
Then, of course, there are our speakers—diverse individuals bringing a wide range of experience and perspective to the topic of the summit: everyday love. And there are the summit participants and Certificate in Positive Psychology alumni, as well as networks like the Live Happy, Canadian Positive Psychology Association, the Happiness Clubs, and social media groups, who all help us to get the word out.
All these dedicated people are part of my team. And I LOVE them!
However, love is not something we usually talk about in the context of the workplace. Using that word can alienate people who equate love with romance or family, not with a job or colleagues. But when we focus on connection in the workplace, the conversation gets easier.
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Connection is what we’re talking about when we talk about love in teams. The emotion that helps us to care about someone else—their well-being, their opinion, their strengths, their contribution—is a form of love. Love for self and love for others. In Barbara Fredrickson’s words, we are talking about micro-moments of positivity resonance. In the words of researcher Jane Dutton, we are talking about high-quality connections.
WBI faculty member Phoebe Atkinson and I met last week to start putting together our workshop for the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu, May 1–4. Phoebe has been guiding and coaching leaders for a long time, and I have been leading teams for many years, and we both have a tremendous love for teams and the leaders who engage them.
What we would like to explore with our workshop attendees is how we build connections.
Where do they come from and how do we sustain them?
Phoebe and I believe that these connections come from knowing our colleagues—seeing the whole person, and recognizing common ground, shared experience, and similar perspectives. It is about seeing the people around us as the extraordinary sum of their strengths, and not focusing on what we perceive to be their shortfalls.
Research shows that, when we know our own strengths, we feel empowered and engaged. When others know our strengths, they see us in a new light and connect with us in a more constructive way.
For example, I had a colleague who was known as “Mr. No.” He was a senior member of the team, and when other team members brought suggestions to him for improvements in process or design, he would regale them with all the reasons why their suggestions would not work.
Once the team members had explored their character strengths through the VIA assessment, we came to see that Mr. No’s number-one strength was judgment. On the surface, it appeared that he was judgmental—that is, overly critical and negative. In fact, his strength in judgment made him analytical and gave him the ability to see the other side of whatever was presented to him. He was constantly weighing and balancing. So, when a colleague approached him with the next best idea since sliced bread, Mr. No’s strength of judgment helped him find the ways in which the concept was flawed.
Once we knew this about him, we changed tack. Instead of presenting him with the finished idea and waiting for him to pick holes in it, we approached him in the early stages and asked him to explore possibilities with us. This created the opportunity for him to see the good and the bad, and enabled him to help others to hone their ideas and make them the best that they could be.
As his second strength was fairness, he was happy to see the originator of the idea take it forward and make it happen. Everyone was happier, and his strengths were used to best effect. And the team began to put forward some extraordinarily innovative ideas.
When we look for strengths in others, we connect with those around us in a new way. We look at them with an appreciative eye, and engage them with positive feedback. It is easy to see how that might help us in one-on-one relationships—and what works in personal relationships works in teams. That mutual understanding and appreciation helps to build love and respect, as well as a greater sense of community purpose. Shared purpose creates belonging and engagement, and research shows that engagement leads to greater success. Starting from strengths, we move along the upward spiral to well-being, connection, and success.
This concept of building on what is good shows up in many areas of positive psychology and organizational development. The practice of appreciative inquiry shows us the importance of understanding what is already working and supports us in dreaming of a new future. Intentional Change Theory dreams first and then assesses what is already working well that can support the achievement of that dream.
Research has shown that we rejuvenate through hope, play, mindfulness, and compassion. By
mindfully observing our own strengths and those of others, we build hope and compassion, and thus, not only function better but also, rejuvenate as we go, with the help of our colleagues.
Teams are about communities. Wholebeing is about connection. Wholebeing Institute is about community building. The Embodied Positive Psychology Summit is about how we build and maintain our connections—and our teams—in all areas of life. Join us!
Ruth Pearce is an experienced program manager, positive psychology practitioner and owner of A Lever Long Enough, where she helps project managers develop the skills needed to fully engage their teams. She is also the first THRIVE Programmeconsultant in the US - a program developed in the UK that helps people with anxiety to THRIVE. She is writing a book - The Project Management Effect: From Organizing to Engaging, and regularly presents on engagement at conferences including for PMI and the WBI Embodied Positive Psychology Summit.
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Program Manager * Coach * Trainer * Speaker * Author
Project Motivator & VIA Institute on Character
What are your top strengths as a project manager? Don't know? My passion is helping you to discover your superpowers and the superpowers of those around you. Learn to see and leverage your strengths and those of your team members, stakeholders, family, and friends! As a practicing project leader (the term project manager does not capture the richness of the role) it is important to me to build a safe innovative environment for the people... Continue Reading
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