Sunday, June 21, 2015

How to Talk to the Bully: Disarming Workplace Bullying

Prologue:  As many of you know, when I write about bullying or trauma in general it comes from my personal well, including several years of childhood bully trauma:  stricken by shame, taunted by peers but mostly stalked by my own lurking fear and helplessness, a constant struggle to concentrate, unaware of my smoldering depression, subliminal rage, and omnipresent mask.  Then there was the nuclear tension and family secrets (e.g., a father's hidden fifteen years of shock therapy.  In such a closeted  environment, one learns to stuff all kinds of emotions, even terror, until you can't.)  With the help of Army Basic Training, my Social Work graduate studies, and a lot of therapy, I survived and developed some important self-awareness and vital emotional muscles.  As an adult, my bully learning lab was "hazardous duty" experience, especially doing stress, conflict, violence prevention, and team building consulting with such major government agencies as the US Postal Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Commerce. 


The subject of bullying and animal types came up several times this week:  from a divorce process involving a psychologically battering spouse and his "shark" attorney to a woman watching a friend's dog "bully" her own dog while caring for this "mad dog."  (My dogie endearment term.  Already fed, the guest canine would still snarl at my friend's pet while he was trying to eat.  She realized her dog was hardly eating and started feeding the two in separate rooms.)  My friend's household observation eventually triggered a conceptual bridge to and discussion around "bullying in the workplace."  Perhaps at a later date I'll share our program development thoughts, but for now let me provide a subjective definition:

A bully is an individual who has a need to dominate others along with an extreme, self-centered craving for control, especially of others for whom they feel a sense of threat or envy.

This dominant or aggressive pattern often is cultivated by being bullied or abused in one's family or in a peer group.  Of course, this environment models intimidation as a problem-solving tool of choice.  And once a pattern of success is achieved through bullying, an individual may simply enjoy the power and dopamine boost of seeing others squirm under his or her literal or figurative thumb.

Conversely, bullying behavior can arise from the smoldering rage and insecurity of feeling abandoned or of being invisible in a family; or perhaps seeing oneself and being labeled as a "lower class" cultural outsider or outcast.  The bully may be quick to feel insulted or disrespected.  Subsequent aggressive behavior often reflects a wounded sense of self.  Which, not surprisingly, leads to the following dynamic:

The bully often physically or psychologically intimidates others as a way of boosting their own vulnerable sense of self.  In addition, the bully process helps to distract from their own insecurity and self-loathing or to deny a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

Here are five basic reasons why bullies have power over us:

a) Bully's Status -- they have the role, stature, and clout to inflict physical and/or psychological (including economic or career advancement) harm; to demean and diminish our social position, prestige, and power; such individuals may feel entitled to special treatment or immunity (e.g., "too big to fail" mentality); the bully also may play down his or her hostile actions and see the other as overly sensitive,

b) Superior-Subordinate Culture -- we have been raised in a family or culture that deems it wrong, bad, or disrespectful to talk back to people who are senior or in position of authority; tradition and convention are upheld on a rigid, "sacred cow" (another quiet bully animal?) pedestal.  Consider the "Stress Doc's Law of the Loyalty Loop and Lock":  Those who never want you to answer back always want you to back their answer,"

c) Ineffective Leadership -- especially in the workplace, but also in other educational or social settings, people in authority roles do not want to tackle the bully, whether from fear or because these individuals do not want to be bothered with the necessary "disciplinary paperwork."  Such leaders do not perceive the demoralizing potential of bullying, and/or try to ignore or isolate the problematic individual; (would you downplay, disregard, or simply isolate a serious virus in your computer?).  Alas, there are times when those in authority allow bullying or use the bully as overt or covert agents of aggression to send a message to the targeted individual(s), along with other team members. 

d) Learned Helplessness -- our own long-standing "learned helplessness," seeing ourselves as ineffective, including gripped by high anxiety and feelings of shame; we possess limited assertive conflict-problem solving communication skills; perhaps we have had role models who too believed they possessed low self-control, or we feel disconnected from potential allies; too often, this individual sees himself as helpless in the face of victimization or not worthy of self-defense,

e) Difficulty Asking for Help -- the bullied individual may have limited access to trustworthy adults who could become coaches in his corner; more likely he is afraid and ashamed to acknowledge feelings of terror or vulnerability, especially when a family motto is, "God helps those who help themselves!"  As targets, sometimes we can't conceive of people behaving in such a hostile or cruel manner and are left speechless, in a state of shock.  Remember, while there may be some risk in asking for help, it usually is much less destructive on your mind-body than any imagined retribution; alas, the perceived humiliation of asking for help is only outdone by the actual agony of suffering in silence.

Confronting Bullying:  Five Strategic Tools, Techniques, and Tips

Now that we have a definition of bullying and the psychosocial conditions that encourage this demeaning, power-driven, and manipulative process, our final segment...How to engage and set limits on the bully and bullying interaction:

Ø  Be Affirming with Realistic Expectations
Ø  Be Courageously Absurd and Use the Power of Metaphors
Ø  Announce an Intention to Bring in a Third Party
Ø  Facilitated Confrontation or Conflict Mediation
Ø  Purposefully Walk Away to Fight Another Day

1.  Be Affirming with Realistic Expectations.  Consider these three vignettes.

a) I recall being hired by a business owner for a technical writing project.  Once again he was criticizing my effort with a condescending and dismissive tone.  I finally protested, with perhaps a bit too much emotion:  "I don't mind specific negative feedback but globally dismissing my work; I don't buy it."  In fact, I mustered up some poise using an "I" message, not blurting out a blaming "You're just a bully."  I have not worked for him since, but the absence of that gnawing, self-berating angst, that toxic voice in my head -- "Why didn't you speak up!" -- is almost priceless.

b) Then there was a time years back when a Type A owner of a word processing company, (a former New Yawka, like myself) challenged me with, "How am I supposed to know what to do if you can't give instructions?  (Definitely an attacking "you" message there.)  My response was both verbal and nonverbal:  While tactfully declaring, "I'm not so sure," I also straightened my posture, held up one hand, palm facing her, (this was not a signal to "talk to the hand") while slightly elevating my voice.  Though verbally diplomatic, the gestalt of the message was, "That aggressive attitude and tone was not acceptable; it must stop."  And she did modify her counter:  "Well if there's a problem, it takes two."  And certainly when I'm in a hyper mode, I can't always be sure of the airtight accuracy of my instructions.  I smartly said, "I can live with that."  I wanted to maintain a working relationship as she did good work; I didn't need to puncture her ego nor prove I was right.

c) Finally, the coaching client who had been beaten down verbally and emotionally by her spouse over many years, stated her goal just before she and her soon-to-be-ex were meeting with their lawyers before a judge:  "I no longer want to be intimidated by him."  I immediately challenged this declaration.  "That's a longer term goal.  Right now you have to assemble a really competent and aggressive team, especially a battle-tested attorney, who will fight for your interests."


I will introduce the remaining four interventions as separate essays.  Up next:  "Be Absurd and Use the Power of Metaphors."  Until then...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote and webinar speaker and "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  A former psychotherapist, “The Doc” is a training and Stress Resilience Consultant for The Hays Companies, an international corporate insurance and wellness brokerage group.  He has also led “Resilience, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services.  Mark, a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service and is a recognized Critical Incident/Trauma Debriefing expert.  The Stress Doc is the author of Resiliency Rap, Practice Safe Stress, and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email or call 301-875-2567.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Double Edge of Senior Time: A Resiliency Rap

It's a period of multiple "R and R" -- relationship and relocation -- transitions along with much uncertainty, not the least of which entails generating speaking and consulting work while well into my 60s.  In this psycho-existential and financial state of "danger" and "opportunity," I began to muse about aging as well as the state of heart and mindset.  And upon looking up the word senior, its multifaceted nature suddenly filled my heretofore blank mental canvas.  As they say in those 12-step groups, Thanks for letting me share.


The Double Edge of Senior Time

As a senior am I "older"
Or might one choose to be bolder?
Why not play a dashing Colonel
We all know hype springs eternal.
Simply change that common thinking
Now "senior" stands for "higher ranking":
Being "further up the ladder"
Even if you're a Mad Hatter.
"Leading," "chief," and "most important"
Well...I can simply rage and rant.
"Elder," superior," and a "boss"
Means never admitting at a loss!

In a mind so filled with magic
Ever juggling joy and tragic
Still "quipping the light fantastic"
While debating brick or plastic
Fighting set-in-stone-age limits
Must it be dinos vs. digits?
There's but one rule of thumb:

For the hearty and the frail
Who have trouble "getting real"
Long pursue the holy grail
Or the kingdom yet to come...
Blind faith in a life of learning
Trials by fire, soul still burning
Never, never to pain numb.
On bended knee in their garden
Ever planting seeds of wisdom
Surely, one day, a rising sun.

© Mark Gorkin  2015
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Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW
The Stress Doc ™

Stress & Change Resilience Speaking--Coaching-Consultation
Crisis Intervention-Burnout-Bullying/Conflict-Loss-Grief

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Mark Gorkin, the Stress Doc ™,, acclaimed Keynote and Kickoff Speaker, Webinar Presenter, Retreat Leader and Motivational Humorist, is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Resiliency Rap. A former Stress & Violence Prevention consultant for the US Postal Service, "The Doc" is also a Team Building and Organizational Development Consultant as well as a Stress Resilience/Wellness Consultant for the international corporate wellness/insurance brokerage group, The Hays Companies. Mark leads highly interactive, innovative, and inspiring programs for corporations and government agencies, including the US Military, on stress and brain resiliency/burnout prevention through humor, change and conflict management, generational communication, and 3 "R" -- Responsible, Resilient & Risk-Taking -- leadership-partnership team building.

Email for his popular free newsletter & info on speaking programs and phone coaching sessions.

Stress Doc Mantra: "Think out of the box, perform outside the curve (the Bell Curve), and be out-rage-ous!"

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jump-Starting Individual and Team "Consciousness-Communication-Creativity-Community": The IC2 Model and Method

Recently I led a one-day team building retreat for two city government divisions.  This is the fourth or fifth time I have led retreats or workshops over the past five years for these divisions.  As evidenced by the first two testimonials, once again, all had a rich and fun learning-sharing experience.  However, perhaps most important, there were follow-up strategic steps, for both preserving the spirit of the retreat and for tangibly building upon its foundation.  (See the third, June 2nd, testimonial.)

Community Services-Wells Robertson, Gaithersburg, MD City Govt; "Teaming, Timing, and Unleashing Our Talent:  A Stress and Team Resilience Retreat," 1-day

May 28, 2015

Thank you Mark for a wonderful presentation on Friday.  Your knowledge and energy were inspiring and the day was a lot of fun too!   I really appreciate your ability to engage everyone in the room in an enjoyable and productive way.

We enjoy working with you and appreciate your flexibility and friendship.

Take care and hope to work with you again soon.

Maureen Herndon
Division Manager
Community Services
City of Gaithersburg
301-258-6395 ex 1

Mark I concur. I have not heard anything but good feedback about the retreat, although I am not the least bit surprised. You are a 10 good buddy!

Jimmy Frazier-Bey
Division Manager of Homeless Services
City of Gaithersburg
(301) 258-6398 (Main line)

June 2, 2015

Hi Mark,

It was nice meeting you too. It seems the team definitely had a good gathering and came away with some fresh ideas and desire to bring about change for both staff and the people we serve. We were discussing the retreat in staff meetings yesterday.

Although it has been a few years since I have worked there, I think the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless could definitely benefit from your services. I am not sure who the point of contact would be but I am sure it can be found on their web site

Everyone here at Wells/Robertson and Community Services has been incredibly welcoming. It was especially nice to end my first week at the retreat. Hearing staff voice their issues and also being able to see the way staff interact with each other has been helpful for me to get to know the team. 

Thank you and take care,

Intake Supervisor

Setting and "C"-ing the Learning-Sharing Ambiance

I suspect the "Get FIT" -- FUN-Interactive-Thought-provoking --  individual and group learning-sharing framework, tone, and energy of the one-day program was established within the first hour.  Key start-up components included:

a) summarizing the previous retreat's compelling "communicating with authority" opening group exercise; in addition to refreshing memories, there were several new employees attending the present retreat

b) my sharing a newfound appreciation for the dynamics and value of "interdependency" based on a first time experience speaking and interacting with a distinctly diverse cultural group

c) another unprecedented learning experience:  reflecting on a very recent "live in" coaching opportunity with a long-time friend grappling with major depression; one outcome:  a better understanding of the essence of building a healing partnership

d) an opening exercise that asked small groups to engage in "individual reflection before collective brainstorm" to generate varying definitions of team; this helped illuminate the concept of "synergy" and facilitated pinpointing two concrete arteries for "head and heart" team development

e) generating a synthesis of "Consciousness" and "Communication" as well as "Creativity" and "Community" for strengthening resilience and collaboration.

As I reflect upon this list, to be illustrated momentarily, two aptitudes crystallize critical to shaping the retreat learning objectives along with its "Get FIT" structure and rhythm, substance and style: a capacity for stress- and team-resilience consciousness and a capacity for give-and-take communication.

But let's not stop at these two "C"s.  Another overall facilitating if not philosophical agent is my personal IC2 mantra about teaming.  Basically, I challenge the old saw:  "There's no 'I" in team."  While on its face discouraging self-centered egotism, for me, this group gospel can too easily morph into suppressing self-integrity and encouraging blind loyalty.  There's potential for an anti-diversity if not an Orwellian sense of group-speak homogeneity.  Reminds me of the Stress Doc's "Law of the Loyalty Loop & Lock":  Those who never want you to answer back always want you to back their answer!  And as we'll see shortly, forever holding up any (at least human) authority or guiding principle on a rigid or unquestioned pedestal, may well invite serious trouble.  So here's my challenging proposition:

While there may be no "I" in team...There are two "I"s in WINNING.  And these "I"s can "C":

Winning teams blend Individual Creativity and Interactive Community!

Illuminating the Foundational Five

To truly capture some of the purposeful and passionate, individual and interactive IC2 atmosphere, let me briefly describe and analyze the initial five learning and sharing concepts and activities of the retreat.  In particular, notice my attempt to encourage a "Four 'C'-ing" process:  cultivating "Consciousness" and "Communication" along with "Creativity" and "Community."

1.  Communicating with Authority Study.  The previous retreat opened with a commercial case history outlined by Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book, Outliers.  In the 1980s, the Korean and Columbian Airlines were experiencing an inordinately large number of fatal accidents, way above the industrial  average.  After technological problems were ruled out, a cultural connection was discovered.  The critical factor it turns out was who was flying the plane -- the senior or junior pilot.  (The retreat exercise involved small groups deciding who was flying the plane at the time of the fatal accident and why was this significant for solving the safety dilemma.)  Challenging the obvious, the senior pilot was steering the craft.  And the lethal flaw:  these cultures venerated seniority and authority.  Upon sensing early signs of danger, the junior pilot hesitated instead of immediately issuing a strong warning.  And if he did finally call out, it was often too late:  out of the clouds...a side of a mountain!  The safety monitors discovered that the navigator was restrained by such dysfunctional-cultural beliefs as:  a) he would come across as being disrespectful, b) the older, more experienced pilot must know what he's doing, and/or c) it wasn't his role to correct or criticize his elder partner (if in the unlikely sense the less senior pilot identified himself as a partner; nor in this status-conscious culture was he likely recognized as such).  And the hypothetical proof was in the performance pudding:  as cited by Gladwell, at least for the Korean Airlines, once trained in Western assertiveness skills, lethal accidents plummeted and the airline's safety record matched the industry's statistical standard.

Not surprisingly, once again the retreat message was loud and clear:  how do we create an atmosphere where everyone on the team or in a division feels free to speak their mind, to dissent or disagree (hopefully, without being all-knowingly or condescendingly disagreeable) and, certainly, to express a different viewpoint with all levels of authority?  And surely this study addresses issues spanning our generational-digital divide.  (Or as I once penned, Don't be afraid to pet the dinosaur!)

Of course, acknowledgement does not necessarily mean agreement, but individuals wish to know they've had an honest hearing.  A passive colleague, the absence of timely feedback and open discussion invites error and serious disruption.  And will surely impede or erode any sense of trust.  Clearly there's a price to pay if and when an organization's culture (akin to a nation's) places the idea of authority, conventional wisdom, or guiding principle on a rigid, unquestioned, and soundproof pedestal.

2.  Dynamics and Value of Integrity and Interdependency, Humor and Courage.  Building on the importance of open and reciprocal communication, I shared a powerfully moving experience that occurred this past fall working with the Texas State Govt Division of Blind Services.  About a third of the 120 attendees were blind or near-blind employees.  I’ve not previously had such an immersion experience in this distinct culture.  Three eye- and mind-opening experiences stood out in the realm of interpersonal communication and trust-building.  (And yes, the word "eye-opening" was a conscious choice.):

a) how a blind woman quickly sensed my "fish out of water" discomfort in a casual social situation and encouraged me to be myself and just speak up.  “Don’t be afraid to use words like ‘see’ or ‘blind.’  Speak as you normally would…and if you’re not sure about something, ask questions.”  Her insight and guidance definitely helped break the ice and relaxed my mind.

b) the use of playful aggression or teasing in all manner of relations, but especially between the blind person and his or her sited guide.  This good-natured "in your face" interaction helps place these individuals on a more equal verbal footing despite visible differences (actually, maybe because of them).  Such bantering blurs physical and status disparities, and both parties are able to better appreciate and realize the value of a back-and-forth emotional partnership.

Humor is also used with non-sighted or limited-sight peers, for example, frequently reminding one another to “watch where you poke that guide stick.”  And the sighted don't escape their observational powers and clever tongue:  when walking with their guide stick on a crowded street, most people nervously and quickly step aside or scatter as if the oncoming tapping was a fire engine blasting its horn…or the non- or limited-sighted individual becomes a Moses parting the Red Sea!  Clearly, these men and women have done some “head work, heart work, and homework” to achieve this level of comfort in their own skin.  (A few days after the conference, I shared my cultural experience with a former Army First Sergeant who certainly had seen his share of battlefield casualties.  His immediate response:  “They owned their disability!”)

Actually, these folks use of self-effacing humor reminds me of a wonderful quote from Ernst Kris, psychiatrist as well as student of Freudian psychology and humor:  What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at.  And as the Stress Doc inverted:  What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!  Humor as a tool for affirming integrity and facilitating social parity.

c) the final "Blind Services" learning lab proved to be a madcap/multi-GPS car ride to a BBQ restaurant; it truly was worthy of a scene from a Marx Brothers movie.  Carol, the driver of the car and I were up front, while Anne (my original mentor) and Billy, a sharp-witted gentleman in his fifties with a refined Southern drawl, were talking up a storm in the back.  The madness reached its peak when we appeared to be lost.  Carol asked me to check her Smart Phone’s directional GPS, while Anne and Billy were doing the same with their audio GPS systems.  People are calling out wildly different route options.  While I was fumbling around with Carol’s phone, not making much headway, and knowing how far I am from a technology maven, a thought suddenly arose:  What we have here is the technically blind leading the blind!  Alas, I was unable to spontaneously voice this… However, the next morning, during my opening keynote remarks, I shared our road trip story, including my self-conscious/self-censored quote.  The audience’s laughter was palpable.  Finally, I thanked one and all, especially Anne, for:  a) being so welcoming and encouraging me to find my genuine voice, b) awakening me to the integrity and richness of the blind and sight-impaired community and c) helping me better appreciate the array of personalities and communication styles therein.

3.  Live-In Coaching and a Healing Partnership.  The third leg of my relationship-building platform
involved an individual grappling with a non-visible, often silent disability.  I briefly reflected on my recent "live-in" experience helping a long-time friend struggling with major depression.  And as previously noted, "Consciousness" and "Communication" are vital components for building a bridge between individual resilience and intimate collaboration.

a. Doing Honest Self-Inventory...Leading to Synergy -- assess individual and team strengths and vulnerabilities for "high task and human touch" intervention.  To have depth and breadth, a resilience inventory takes both personal courage and interpersonal feedback.  This necessary first step helps differentiate the ideal or illusion from the real or achievable.  Can we bravely look into the gap between the theoretical and the actual, between ability and disability, between future possibility and present, down to earth, "what we can realistically achieve right now" perspective?  And might we grapple with assessment anger or angst without feeling so diminished, despairing, enraged, helpless, or bereft...or seek appropriate support if engulfed by the latter?  ((For example, my depressed friend seemed to cycle between holding on to a miracle cure (though his meds were not producing the once achieved rebound effect) to despairing of ever being his old self.  Not fully owning his current disability hampered motivation to discover small but meaningful rehab and recovery steps at his design or disposal.))
More pivotal questions:  has something significant changed within our person or situation that is effecting our ability to manage, adapt to, or engage with our bio-psychosocial ecology?  To what extent have we contributed to meaningful gaps and shifts?  Can we use both heart and head to authentically examine the breach, to contemplate a new trial and error learning curve?  If so, then a shortcoming or blunder is not an omen of shame or failure. It's more a transitional space for skill-building or adding needed resources, for creatively and courageously exploring an uncertain or troublesome psychic or physical territory; for discovering whether you can reduce a learning gap; perhaps it's time to venture into a new arena.  However, a capacity for "letting go" is critical; not necessarily forsaking dreams and goals but accepting that there may be a fluid mix between disappointment and excitement.  Being at a loss often means meandering anxiously or grappling with momentary defeat.  Still, wandering in the desert is a time-honored way of stumbling upon a subterranean spring; but especially of uncovering one's own hidden oases.  This "dark night of the soul" is often an uncertain if not agonizing interlude, a prerequisite for illumination if not rebounding; a period of incubation for designing or discovering a fresh, even unchartered perspective, pathway, and plan of attack.
And by definition, a team retreat is a time and space to step back and reassess; an uncommon opportunity for personal and collaborative reflection if not group imagination and innovation.  For me a retreat is synonymous with synergy:  not only does this blank canvas with its free-flowing communicational space spur "a whole greater than the sum of its parts" but, even more a true sharing-learning lab parts have the potential to become vital partners!
b. Designing Structure and Sharing -- generate operational structure that establishes a purposeful goal, facilitates control while also allowing time and space for give-and-take feedback and meaningful problem-solving.  The best example was our initiating a half-hour brisk early morning "walk and talk."  This activity helped us both intentionally rise and rapidly focus, mentally anticipate and structure our day, as well as discuss any looming problematic issues.  Clearly, the retreat's use of several interactive exercises speak to the importance of structured focusing and sharing, supporting and strategizing.

c. Surmounting Stigma of Dependency -- recognize that it can be difficult for many people to reach out and ask for help, perhaps fearing that a knowledge or skill gap may be revealed, thereby triggering those "critical voices."  My strategy:  engaging in candid and courageous two-way discussion, asking my friend direct questions about his needs and preferences, frustrations and anxieties. (So too sharing my own personal concerns and quandaries.)  I'm a big believer in asking "good questions" and exploring various options, especially before making suggestions or giving advice.  For me a good question is a hallmark of "respect":  paying careful attention to a person's lived experience, emotional framework, and world view.  Valuing another's ideas or perspective can be a powerful tool for reducing status differences.  The implicit "open and humble" message:  I want to hear your thinking on this issue; I may learn something.  Finally, to reduce the onus of "dependency," we have also employed some of the playful bantering illustrated in my brief "blind culture" travels.  We seem to be evolving toward that "give and take," open to difference state of healthy  interdependence, essential for trust-building as well as interpersonal and productive team relating.

4.  Defining and Modeling "Team Exercise".  I wanted to illustrate the concept of "team" by having small groups come up with a definition.  I also varied the task for each unit:  a) one group was to define "team," b) the second illustrated a "high performing, high support, and morale-building team," and c) the final group, a "CS-Wells high performing, high support, and morale-building team."  Our definitions went from the general to the specific.  Another purposeful wrinkle:  I wanted the individuals in each group to come up with his or her own definition before engaging in the collective definitional brainstorm.  Research suggests this two-step process maximizes brainstorming results.  And true to my hypothesis, the definition of team both expanded and captured more discrete components as the groups' dialogue evolved from general to specific.

In each case, the definitions had a synergistic quality; the resultant group definition was conceptually richer and more insightful than any one members' semantic scribble.  Perhaps most important, two concepts were found in a majority of the groups:  stress resilience and honest collaboration!  The exercise also sparked a critical question from an experienced employee:  "We all agree that honesty and openness are vital...but how do we really achieve them?"

My first response:  creating a safe atmosphere and opportunity for genuine dialogue around important communication channels and conflict issues.  I then showed a Power Point Slide on Building Team Resilience -- The Magnificent Seven:  Helmet’s Off & Hands On.  Let me summarize key open team communication and trust-building structures and strategies:
1)  Wavelength Segment:  setting aside ten minutes in agenda-driven task-oriented meetings for factors positively and/or negatively impacting emotional communication-conflict and team coordination; key is to gradually evolve a "helmet's office" atmosphere where status distinctions do not inhibit idea or emotional expression or determine the value of shared ideas or information; the goal is the opposite of groupthink
2)  Two Hats:  team leader wears a member hat not just a managerial one; ironically, this helps facilitates helmet's off, no rank in the room discussion,
3)  Rotate Facilitators:  instead of the supervisor running the meeting, employee team members lead the meeting on a rotational basis; the peer leader meets with the supervisor and other team members to help set the agenda; supervisor gains new leadership perspective as participant-observer; this "hands on" role-learning often increases employee ownership-responsibility, participation, and commitment to meeting success,
4)  "Morning Quickie":  finding a morning time when all or most can gather for a five-minute huddle to discuss late-breaking news or unexpected developments, reaffirm schedules and plans, to share a funny story, and for starting the day with a "we're all in this together" mindset,
5)  Organizational IRAs & Career/Team Planning:  a Branch manager at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had a potent idea for solidifying her relationship with individual team members and with branch  employees as a whole.  Twice a year she had a barbeque at her house; the primary objective:  How can I help you advance your career!,
6)  Manage Stress Carriers; Build-in Ongoing Rejuvenation and Connection:  two resilience fostering and idea/cross-team-building interventions:
a. it's vital that leaders not ignore dysfunctional performers and team members; nor should these leaders ask other team members to "just focus on your job"; such a "blind eye" or avoidance strategy allows a virus to fester with the potential to corrupt all manner of people, programs, and operations; also, a leader's credibility with her people is on the line; both documentation of a problematic pattern and a "soft referral" to, for example, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), are the ideal way to proceed
b. a monthly pizza party, for example, is a great venue both for some "R & R" but also for creative cross-pollination, hopefully encouraging people and programs that don't often meet to have some fruitful mind-melding, and
7)  When to Call On a Stress Resilience/Team Conflict Guide:  periodically, interpersonal or team issues or conflicts arise that require a level of experience and expertise beyond a supervisor or manager's domain; this is when the savvy leader consults with HR or an EAP Consultant and/or looks for an outside Stress Resilience & Team Coordination Consultant; he or she knows to seek counsel and expand team resources and, ultimately, the problem-solving and emotionally supportive potential of the team.

5.  Putting the Four 'C'-ing" Process Together:  Cultivating "Consciousness" and "Communication" along with "Creativity" and "Community."  Finally, just about at the hour mark, we launched into an group exercise that spoke to the earlier, heartfelt question about fostering interpersonal organizational openness as well as the general concern about managing workplace stress, also noted in the opening "team definition" exercise,:  a) identify real workplace barriers to stress resilience and honest collaboration, and b) role-play a scenario that both captures the selected conflict issues and demonstrates some possible problem-solving bridges.  Suffice to say this released both "individual and interpersonal theatricality and creativity," along with considerable knowing laughter.  Combined with the audience responding analytically and emotionally to each of the workplace skits, we also were nurturing meaningful "interactive community."  The IC2 model and method was coming to life!

Closing Summary

An "inspiring" team building retreat that "was also a lot of fun" along with igniting "some fresh ideas and desire to bring about change for both staff and the people we serve" spurred this analysis of the initial five learning and sharing retreat concepts and activities.  In particular, the first hour generated "Four 'C'-ing" energy and framework, introducing concepts and group exercises that challenged participants to explore "Consciousness-Communication-Creativity-Community."  Specifically, the foundational five were:
1.  Communicating with Authority Study
2.  Dynamics and Value of Integrity and Interdependency, Humor and Courage
3.  Live-In Coaching and a Healing Partnership
4.  Defining and Modeling "Team Exercise"
5.  Putting the Four 'C'-ing" Process Together"

From the importance of speaking truth to authority and the criticality of give-and-take interdependence to helping participants identify barriers to stress resilience and collaboration, and then act out problem-solving bridges, the IC2 mantra dominated our morning: 

Winning teams blend Individual Creativity and Interactive Community!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national keynote speaker and "Motivational Humorist" known for interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for government agencies & major corporations.  The Doc is a training and Stress Resilience Consultant for The Hays Companies, an international corporate insurance and wellness broker.  He has also led “Resilience, Team Building and Humor” programs for various branches of the Armed Services.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Resiliency RapFor more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email or call 301-875-2567.