Ritch Hochstetler | August 12, 2022

At trainings I often ask people, “Raise your hand if you love teambuilding experiences?” A typical response is 2-3 people who respond positively out of an entire team. My reply is, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to be doing any happy-crappy teambuilding activities or trust falls during this experience!”

Why is it that so many people have a negative reaction to activities, experiences or processes designed to improve human interaction and collaboration? Maybe it’s because by the time a facilitator is called in for an intervention, communication is so soured that it feels like a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage? Or, it could be that past experiences, even if positive, created only a momentary surge of motivation or goodwill between team members that quickly flitted away in the course of a busy and stressful work environment.

Let’s be real, the word “teamwork” has fallen into the chasm of semantic stretch, which the Heath brothers explained in their book, Made to Stick, as what happens when words become so overused that their meaning gets muffled or lost. I believe that, in order to infuse power and meaning back into this word that represents the only way that we as humans get things done, means connecting teamwork and praxis.

What is Praxis?

Praxis, derived from Greek, is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. In this process, people act upon a theory or lesson, reflect on what happens, then continue to take action based on what they’ve learned. It is an ongoing process centered in lived-experience.

Let’s take a moment to look at the implications of connecting praxis and teamwork. Praxis says that when knowledge and reflection are not followed by action they become worthless. With praxis, the converse is also true – when action does not stem from knowledge and reflection it becomes uninformed activism. In the classic definition, teamwork is the combined (or collaborative) action of a group of people in order to achieve a goal. Connecting praxis and teamwork requires a deeper dive into the second half of the word – WORK.

I remember when my father-in-law had open heart surgery and post-op the doctor telling him, and the entire family, that the benefits wouldn’t last if he didn’t adopt a healthier diet and a commitment to regular exercise. Any effective intervention, whether for health or for helping people improve communication or collaboration, requires an understanding of and commitment to an ongoing process of action – reflection – action where what is experienced and learned gets folded back into the day-to-day for growth that is ongoing.

 Teambuilding Requires Praxis

Teambuilding requires praxis because people are not widgets or cogs in a machine. Rather, they are strange and wonderful social-emotional, physical, and spiritual beings that require belonging and community and iterative workplace cultures that are consciously committed to empathy and caring. Far too many organizations and leaders fail to recognize this, and therefore, they treat teambuilding experiences as short “shot in the arm” events designed for quick-hit staff motivation and morale-boosting. 

Another common misapplication of the concept of teamwork happens when leaders and organizations try to mobilize people around wildly important or big hairy audacious goals believing that this alone will inspire and motivate people to collaborate effectively. The problem with relying on well-defined objectives and goals as the rallying cry for teamwork is that they are overlaid into a reality of constant change. This means that what is intended to get people on the same page and moving in unison is often experienced as a demoralizing and futile pursuit of the unattainable.

The reality is, if teambuilding stays buried in the chasm of semantic stretch, then the power and impact of the “soft-skills” learned through action and reflection will be lost. TeamWORK is about interpersonal effectiveness, effective decision-making, adaptive leadership, healthy and flexible communication, collaborative goal-setting, and operative cohesion. As it turns out, soft-skills are required for hard work to get accomplished.

For effective teamwork to become a lived reality people need to see, value, and respect each other. When this happens one person’s strengths will balance out another’s weakness, and individuals will move freely and naturally into roles that play to their strengths and the team’s success. This can only happen with a commitment to ongoing interaction between action – reflection – action. Effective teamwork requires praxis. The stakes are high. Important work needs to get done. Will you join us at ULEAD to move beyond happy-crappy to people-positive and action-oriented?

Read more about building a culture in which teamwork can thrive.

Learn more ULEADs ReCharge ReTool Reflect Program

Ritch Hochstetler, Chief Ideation Trailblazer at ULEAD