Building Trust Through the Creation of Conflict

Building Trust Through the Creation of ConflictRecently, I had the opportunity to participate in an exciting exercise designed to build trust. Using items I found around the office, I created an obstacle course that teams had to guide a blindfolded team member through. Many people have probably participated in this activity, or one very similar to it, on a retreat or at a leadership training event. The activity stresses the importance of communication and trust because people must give clear, verbal instructions to their teammates, who must in turn listen to and trust the instructions, in order to get through the course successfully.

My role did not end at creating the course because I was also the official scorekeeper, and my prime directive, given to me by my boss, was to create conflict. I changed up the course between groups, assigned random, unexplained time penalties for rule infractions (I did not always explain the rules), and talked over groups as they tried to lead people through the course. The team with the fastest time won solely because I improved its time by 23 seconds after team members communicated with each other in Spanish. I had no plans to reward teams for communicating in a different language, but I figured why not!

While teams did not argue with me during the course of the round, once we all came together and revealed each team’s time, people began to complain about my poor time keeping skills (mission accomplished!). Even though people complained about the fairness of the activity for a little while, the bulk of the debrief was spent listening to teams complement each other about the clear directions and about how willing people were to trust each other.

In the end, I learned a lot about trust and communication through observing our leadership team complete the exercise. Participants worked quickly to determine, or naturally fell into, certain roles on their respective teams, which allowed them to avoid the problem of having too many people clamoring over each other. The blindfolded people completely trusted the people guiding them, which helped every team to complete the exercise with few missteps. Teams also spent more time building each other up and focusing on each other’s strengths than they did on the fairness of their scores.

Waiting for the Weekdays: 2016 in Review

Growing up, I often heard the expression working for the weekends. As a student, I more than understood what this phrase meant. The week was tough while the weekend was fun. However, my experience with Communities In Schools (CIS) has caused me to rethink this commonly heard saying. Why wait for the weekends, when weekdays are exciting?

My fellowship began on August 1, 2016, and from the moment that I walked through the door, CIS greeted me with incredible support and compassion. Employees whom I had not yet even met had sent me emails to welcome me to the organization, staff members in the central office greeted me by name, and my two bosses wasted no time marking sure that I had everything that I needed to be successful.

When I started with CIS I knew that I would have the opportunity to wear many hats. As the assistant to the Finance and HR departments my responsibilities ranged from onboarding new employees to helping people request funds for their programs. Coworkers wasted no time figuring out where my passions lay, and they worked tirelessly to provide me with opportunities to learn and grow. In the last few months, my coworkers have given me the chance to lead training sessions, create presentations, help with the volunteer program, learn about advancement initiatives, and participate in trainings. Also, as the resident tester of new technology, I have had the opportunity to do professional development trainings on leadership and finance. These courses prepared me for the work that I do every day.

I would be remiss to not mention all of the people who have served as mentors since I arrived at CIS. Bosses and coworkers have taken the time to explain tasks, learn about me, and discuss their roles at CIS. These discussions have helped me to gain a better understanding of how CIS operates, and the role of everyone within the organization, which is important as a member of the HR team. One of my main goals when I joined CIS back in August was to learn about how a nonprofit operates. In other words, what does it take for a nonprofit to operate effectively? My coworkers took the time to learn about my interests and have gone out of their way to help me learn and grow.

While this blog post focuses on my experiences, I would be doing a poor job expressing the incredible culture of CIS if I made it sound like the support I receive from the organization is unique. Every member of this organization devotes themselves completely to serving each other and the people in the community. In recent years, our Executive Director, Molly Shaw, has led the push to strengthen CIS’s culture and the bond between employees. We have had a chance to participate in a gratitude exercise, a holiday song competition, leadership style survey, and Halloween themed event (see earlier blog post). All of these events have given staff the opportunity to learn about each other, which has helped the organization to feel more like a family.

Creating an Intentional Culture – Superman Style

Halloween started early at the Communities In Schools (CIS) central office because of a plan to bring staff together for a chance to bond. Once October rolled around, staff began to decorate the office using odds and ends and creativity that would have left Willy Wonka amazed. People decorated their office doors, cubicles, and copy rooms. The effect of the decorations was a synthesis of Halloween and Thanksgiving themed items that made Fall come alive. It took a while to decorate the whole office because people had to use whatever spare moments they could find, but the result was mesmerizing. Fall had come to CIS.

As Halloween drew closer, the administration team gathered to think of activities for staff and their children to do. Our Executive Director has emphasized the importance of a strong culture within the organization and so this Halloween event was planned with the goal of giving staff the chance to learn more about each other and their families (staff were allowed to bring their children and spouses to celebrate the special day)!

After a power-house brainstorming session, the administration decided to have a word search, scavenger hunt, cookie decorating station, happy monster hand creation (clear gloves filled with popcorn and candy corn), and magician. Once people had volunteered for various duties, we addressed perhaps the greatest challenge of the day. Would we be allowed to come in costume?

An intense debate raged for almost a minute before we decided that we could wear costumes to help celebrate the special day. My mind raced as I wracked my brain for what superhero I should come dressed as. After another minute of deliberation, I decided on superman.

Time passed during which we organized the events and prepared for the special day.

Halloween: October 31, 2016

            With my cape billowing behind me I strode confidently into work as only the man of steel could do. It was not long before I was set up by a tiny Iron Man, Hulk, Ninja Turtle, Batman, Cleopatra, Police Officer, Scooby-Doo, and Nemo. Many of the staff brought their kids into work to participate in the festivities. The day passed in a whirlwind of activity. Sweeping from one station to the next, I had the chance to visit with staff who are usually working in CMS schools, their spouses, and their children. I learned so much about the people that I work with on Halloween.

I dramatize the events of our Halloween extravaganza in order to hopefully give some insight into the amazing energy and passion with which everyone approached this project. The event gave me a chance to see colleagues outside of our normal work context, which was very special. This holiday gave us all the chance to make memories, which served as the basis for new friendships, and to invest in each other.

The culture at Communities In Schools is one of the strongest and most vibrant that I have ever seen. Everyone is so supportive, caring, and invested in each other. I believe that this event signals the incredible work that has been done to strengthen the culture at CIS. It becomes easy to devote yourself to an organization that devotes itself to you.