The Essential Team-Building Practice

A Blog Series with Karine & Jeff

Karine Veldhoen of Learn Forward
Jeff Thomlinson of Take a Breath for Schools

How do you feel when you walk into a meeting space?  Or a new group for collaboration?

What sets you at ease?

How do we create compassionate spaces?  Spaces of belonging?

Recently, I joined a new group.  It was a community service organization.  When I walked in, I knew two things immediately:  

  • Almost everyone looked different from me.
  • I still wanted to belong.

In those first moments, the questions weren’t conscious, but I can feel my way to them upon reflection.

  • Do I belong?
  • How can I break into this already formed group?
  • How long will it take?

How these questions manifested in my body in those initial moments were anxiety, tension, and heat.  

I escaped to the food table.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

How often do team members, students, or parents feel these yearnings and ask these questions when they step foot onto our school campuses?

Do I belong here?

How often do people hang back or stay in the shadows because they don’t know if they belong?

As we welcome new team members, let’s usher them into belonging.

Let’s start by creating belonging with our team because their sense of community and connection will flavour everything else.  If they all feel connected, the ripple effect will be profound.

The Essential Practice

The essential ritual for creating ‘belonging’ in a team is the experience of a check-in.  

Over the years, I’ve had a wide variety of profound models in creating a welcome from:

  • Churches
  • Community organizations
  • Intentional colleagues
  • Better Leaders, Better Schools
  • Center for Courage and Renewal
  • Compassionate Systems Leadership of MIT

In order to cultivate trust, safety, and connection, we must make time for check-ins.

The Anatomy of a Check-In

This particular sequence comes directly from both Compassionate Systems Leadership and Center for Courage and Renewal Leadership Academy trainings.

First, begin with breathwork or another contemplative, experiential practice (ie poetry).

It is essential to ground and find equanimity before going further into the check-in or agenda.

Second, journal.  Using a prompt germane to the purpose of the gathering is most effective.  But also, it can simply be two questions:

How am I today?

What is moving in me now?

Third, allow everyone to share in small groups, such as dyads or triads.  The guidelines are simple:

  • Listen to everyone in the space (aka manage the time).
  • Practice holding the space with care (aka be fully present).

In my Compassionate Systems Leadership training, 20-25% of the training time was spent checking in.

This anatomy is variable.  

Alternatively, I have often used poetry as a contemplative team experience to open meetings.

A Resource

In our all-new Passageways team experiences, we have three steps:

  1. Breathwork (5min)
  2. Teaching Practice (5min)
  3. Visualization (10min)

The key, take the time to compassionately create an experience of togetherness.

Need resources for school team check-ins?  We invite all leaders to use our ready-to-use Passageways – Powerful Team-Building Experiences.  Check it out today.

Yours in service,

Karine and Jeff