30 November 2013

It Takes Time

In the story, the people of Israel are taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. As they leave the city, they look back and see the smoke rising. The soldiers marched the people of God a long, long way from their home to the place of exile. The journey took a very long time and some of the people died on the way. The exile lasted 70 years, the passing of a full generation.

In the children’s ministry curriculum Godly Play, the telling of the story involves moving the people from "Jerusalem" to "Babylon.” There is a river in the way and the people are led around it. Of course, this adds some extra seconds to the telling of the story.

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of telling this story to a group of children in upper elementary school. As the people moved, we tried to practice silence. But, this was hard. A bit of dialogue:

The children: "Can't we just put the people over there?"

Me: "No, we can't."

"But, why?"

"Because they couldn't just go over there like that and their story is our story."

"But, we know that. Let's just put them over there so we can keep telling the story."

"Well, I would like to do that--and that would be nice--but that's not how the story goes. They had to go this way. They couldn't just hop over there in a second. Think about this for a second. Let's wonder a bit."

I gestured to one of the children and asked: "How old are you now?"


"Let's say you were one of the children taken into captivity. How old would you be when you returned to Jerusalem?"

We discussed that for a bit and then noted: "You would have spent your whole life away from home."

After we finished wondering about the story, a couple of the children wanted to work with the story more during a free response time we host every week. When it came to moving the people to Babylon, the waiting was too much so in their telling of the story the children just picked up the people and began moving them to Babylon like Superman.

A helper was on-hand, gently reminding them: "Remember? That's not how the story goes. It took them a long time to go. They couldn't just hop over the river. They went around it."

With that, I was happy to see that the children slowed down a bit and took time to be faithful to the waiting-story.

Our goal in this little exercise was to help the kids feel the "dissonance" of waiting. Waiting is one of those things that cannot be taught by just talking about it. In our day and age we are not accustomed to waiting for anything. We are told that people have a short attention span nowadays so it's our job to make sure they don't get bored. "Keep it moving." But waiting is good for our soul and there is no sound-bite shortcut to this. We can't learn waiting by some clever technique of not-waiting. We can only learn the value of waiting by waiting. It takes time. We don't like it, but that does not change the fact that waiting takes time. Making friends with this kind of waiting is one of the best things we could ever do. May we learn to wait.

Here's to play,


PlayFull creates objects and provides training for the type of storytelling used in the Godly Play method. Our training encourages churches to employ methods that are good for children and adults alike. Email Troy to inquire how PlayFull can be of help to you. 

28 November 2013

Why Giving Thanks Matters

I began PlayFull in part because I discovered in myself a propensity to take life too seriously. Underneath this tarp of seriousness lay piles of shoulds and oughts and musts. My serious responses to certain situations were, in fact, nothing more than cover-ups for entitlement.  Meanwhile, my own sense of rightness and fairness amounted to nothing less than a large pile of…manure is not the first word that comes to mind.

If I felt treated unfairly, I devised clever ways to put things right again. If I felt overlooked, I tried to be more creative so I would get noticed. If I felt misunderstood, I would re-iterate my point until I felt the other heard me—and concurred.

In such situations it didn’t occur to me that perhaps my own sense of fairness was warped. Perhaps it’s good for me to not be the center of attention. Perhaps I should let go of my compulsion to be understood and instead learn to be a learner from others.

I discovered that when I let go of my sense of entitlement the whole relationship changed. So I began PlayFull not because I’ve got this practice down perfectly now but because I’m still learning this way of being and would like companionship in the learning process.  

Once a good friend who happens to be a psychologist said to me, “You’ve got too much of yourself on your hands, Troy.” Ouch. But that’s just what I needed to hear. “Get over yourself, already.”

I’m writing about this on Thanksgiving Day because I have seen that the practice of giving thanks is just the medicine for the disease of self-centeredness. Gratitude is the antidote to entitlement.

“What do you have that you have not received?”  The question is rhetorical, but I forget the answer so often that I need to meditate on it again and again and again, daily. Practicing gratitude is the best way to keep entitlement at bay. Life itself is a gift so anything that comes to me in the course of life is also a gift—if I can learn to receive it in faith and gratitude.

I do not deserve anything—yet notice how quickly I turn and act as if I deserve comfort and ease. My wife and I bought a home a little over a year ago. When we first moved in to our home our hearts were filled with gratitude. We felt lucky, undeserving of such a big blessing. We were grateful to life and the God of life for leading us in such a way that we could have the benefit of owning a home.

But a little while ago I found myself feeling low because of all the repairs I needed to do on our home. I became encumbered with worry and suddenly the gratitude was gone. I felt trapped and burdened. Meanwhile, I failed to realize that the privilege of even having a home is itself a gift. Entitlement was robbing me of joy.

I think of all the physical comforts we enjoy—cars, computers, clothing—and am humbled to admit that with all these blessings it is still hard to practice gratitude. I feel that my car should run perfectly all the time and when a mechanic tells me of a costly repair I notice how quick I am to feel wronged. My computer should run perfectly and when I experience the slightest bit of slowness, I grow frustrated. I feel frustrated that I cannot afford to buy a whole new wardrobe. I am tired of the same old clothes and want to dress fashionably. The other day I found myself becoming annoyed at the thought of having to change a light bulb, for Pete’s sake!

“How many ordained ministers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”  Just one—when he gets over himself.

The examples are without limit. But even these are not as serious as other forms of entitlement. I find that when I fail to practice gratitude I grow frustrated about certain intangible aspects of life to which I feel entitled.

Take the notion of “career”, for instance. I have been very blessed to spend the better part of my days in professional ministry. I get to work with people, to pray with them, encourage them, administer the sacraments, worship with them, cry and laugh with them, party and work with them.

I should be grateful for this, full stop. But then I start to compare my ministry to the ministry of others. I look at so-and-so and notice how many books they’ve published. I hear of another’s popularity: “They are the best speaker I’ve ever heard!” And I find myself ungrateful for the ministry I do have.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” I don’t know who said this but it’s a quote that sticks in my head just now and whoever said it is a genius. When I compare myself to others I awaken entitlement. This happens because I begin to feel that I should have the kind of life that is more like theirs. I want that life for myself. I grow discontent with the life I have and begin plotting and scheming to make my fairy tale world come true. The exercise is doomed to frustration, of course. I cannot live another’s life. I can only live my own. I cannot be another. I can only be myself.

As a God-believer, I am convinced each one of us is in this world as a gift of God. You are here for a reason and God wants you to be you, not someone else. Our culture’s insistent conformities do violence to the intrinsic dignity God has imbued within each person. When I begin to think that I need to be more like another, it is like spitting on the face of beauty. “I must…I should…I ought to be more like that person over there.” No, you shouldn’t. Even being yourself is not a matter of should or should not. It’s a matter of gift: it is a privilege to be yourself because you yourself are a gift. 

God gives you you. No, that’s not a typo. God gives you you. And the you God made is a gift to the world, truly.

This Thanksgiving Day, I encourage you to remember that all of life is a gift.  And believing that all of life is a gift is the most life-giving thing you can do.

Today, I want to practice giving thanks as if my life depends on it. Because it does.  I invite you to do the same. Give thanks with a grateful heart.



We regularly post uplifting content on playfull.org. If you'd like to keep up with some encouraging stuff, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Thank you for reading.

27 November 2013

How to Have A Classy Thanksgiving

Americans are classy on Thanksgiving Day, yes indeedy. Some Hump Day humor today in honor of tomorrow's turkey day all across Amuricuh. Enjoy...

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24 November 2013

"If You Hallow This Life..."

As many gather for worship today, here's a good quote from Martin Buber that reminds us not to be too other-worldly.

If you haven't checked it out yet, take some time today to read our PlayBook review of Buber's classic I and Thou.

23 November 2013

PlayBook: I and Thou by Martin Buber

Some ideas are difficult to express with only one word. For example, some clocks merely tick while others tick-tock. Even as you read this, you can hear the different sounds in your head. Take a second:

Tick, tick, tick, tick

(Pause. Clear your head. Ready?)

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock

There’s a difference and I am compelled to make the distinction by using a single word for the first sound while using a hyphenated word for the other. I suppose I could use a string of words to describe the latter idea, but it conveys a denser meaning to use the shorter hyphenated form. I say tick-tock and you instantly know what I mean.

Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher, has written a short but brilliant treatise that asserts the world in which we live is an entirely hyphenated world. Existence is intrinsically relational—whether that relation is with nature, other people or God.

The title of the book is I and Thou but it could have also been titled I-Thou or I-It.

To say the word “I” presupposes an “other” to whom (or which) we relate. We cannot say “I” without having some other thing or person form the context that gives meaning to that “I”.  Here, I’ll try it.

“I ran.”

At first, it seems the sentence is devoid of any referent. Beside the “I” there is no other object or person directly mentioned.

But try to imagine “running” without the ground. Or try to imagine “running” without an origin or destination. We do not run to nowhere. Even nowhere is somewhere. And we cannot run on or in nothing. If you imagine running in the sky, you are still running in something. Even nothing is something. The statement “I ran” begs the question:

“to whom?” Or

“on what?” Or
“in what?”

Even the sentence “I am” is unimaginable without referent. We know no “I” without another thing or person. I can never escape the fact that I am conditioned by other people or things. The world in which we live is a world of relation. It is quite literally defined by relation. Even the concept of non-being can only be construed in juxtaposition to the idea of being. Ironically, nothing needs something.

To express this metaphysic of relation, Martin Buber says we may describe how we live in this world with two “primary words.” As one would expect in a world of relation, the words in question can only be expressed as hyphenated words (like the word tick-tock). Buber says the “primary words” to describe this world of relation are twofold:



Don’t let your eyes deceive you. You are not looking at three separate words here. Buber is not saying the world is composed of…


No, we live according to one of two paradigms: an I-Thou paradigm or an I-It paradigm.

Either way, there is relation signified in each “primary word.” The two primary words are used to express distinctions in the characteristics of each respective relation.

In I-It the relation can be described as a Subject-Object relation. In I-Thou we have two Subjects in relation. Think of Buber’s ideas as “a grammar of existence.”

The word “I-It” denotes a way of living that treats other things or people as Objects. The word “I-Thou” expresses a way of living that regards everything and everyone as holy, mysterious, and uncontrollable. That person in front of me in the checkout line at the supermarket is a person: I can encounter them but I can never fully understand them. They are not an Object to be controlled; they are a Person to be loved. My response to this mystery evokes awe and reverence for the other. I can only describe them as a “Thou” because of this—and their “Thou-ness” makes me keenly aware of my own mystery. This way of relating to others manifests a reality that is hard to describe because of its immense beauty. If we were to describe it with a single word, we’d have to resort to Buber’s “primary word”:  I-Thou.

Here’s how Buber puts it: “All real living is meeting.” (26)

“Individuality makes its appearance by being differentiated from other individualities. A person makes his appearance by entering into relation with other persons.” (67)

From this simple grammar Buber draws profound, far-reaching conclusions. Even our relation to so-called objects (such as a tree, a mountain, the ocean, or a pebble) is affected. If we regard each “object” reverently we can establish an “I-Thou” relation even with a small daffodil. The pursuit of scientific progress is affected by this posture; gaining knowledge in order to control changes an I-Thou posture to an I-It posture.

Our pursuit of profit-making is changed; our relation to money can no longer be colored by greed when we respect both the constructive and destructive potential of amassing wealth.

Buber saw first-hand what happens when political philosophies are colored by an I-It relation: he was one of the German-Jewish academics persecuted by Hitler’s Nazi regime. He personally witnessed an imposition of the rule of law for the sake of controlling others and extinguishing divergent ideas. Whole systems of government flow from either I-It or I-Thou relations. Often, entire nations experience periods when they fluctuate between the two realities. We catch glimpses of I-Thou relations only to have hope diminished when I-It takes over.

These two primary words have implications for interpersonal relationships as well. Parental and spousal relations come to mind immediately. Having been married for 22 years, I’ve seen first-hand that I can never fully understand my wife, nor control her. She is holy and mysterious. I encounter her but I can never master her. When I try to control her, I treat her as an object, a thing, an It. But she is a Thou. She herself is her own I and the only way to revere her “Thou-ness” is to let her be an I.

In this relation, I discover another mystery: When I move from I-Thou to I-It in relating to another person I see that my “I-ness” is also changed. Buber puts it this way: “The I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.” (67)

In the case of the former, the I is expansive, gracious, joyful, free and freeing. In the case of the latter, the I is small, petty, controlling, lustful and untrusting.

The difference is made when we live in grace. Buber again: “Grace concerns us in so far as we go out to it and persist in its presence; but it is not our object.” (78) Even grace cannot be controlled. In fact, when we try to control grace, grace ceases to be grace for us.

We try to control grace, however, because we fear the hurt that may come with living in free grace. When we encounter the other just as they are, we must admit, it will sometimes hurt. Living by the  I-Thou relation always carries two uncontrollable sides to it: “The Thou confronts me. But I step into direct relation with it. Hence the relation means being chosen and choosing, suffering and action in one…” (78)

So, there are implications for the world of people and things. We discover that even “things” are not just “things” when we see them through I-Thou eyes.

This is even true of that Person or Thing which our eyes cannot see. So, Buber speaks of God: “Many men wish to reject the word God as a legitimate usage, because it is so misused. It is indeed the most heavily laden of all the words used by men. For that very reason it is the most imperishable and most indispensable. What does all mistaken talk about God’s being and works…matter in comparison with the one truth that all men who have addressed God had God Himself in mind?” (77)

Even atheists believe in God, Buber states: “But when he, too, who abhors the name, and believes himself to be godless, gives his whole being to addressing the Thou of his life, as a Thou that cannot be limited by another, he addresses God.” (78)

“Believers”, on the other hand, have a different set of misconceptions to overcome in order to embrace the “Thou-ness” of God. On the one hand, believers often seek to divide God from the world (dualism). On the other hand, some believers speak of “seeking God in (or by) the world” (pantheism). Both, in fact, establish an I-It relation with God, Buber says. God (the only I whose I-Thou way of being never fluctuates) is the One who is ever-near but who cannot be caught or controlled.  We encounter God but we can never fully understand God. For this reason, Buber asserts that it is more accurate to say that “the world is in God” than to say that “God is in the world.” This means that wherever we go we encounter God, but God is not someone we can put in a box. Buber describes this phenomenon eloquently:

“He who enters on the absolute relation is concerned with nothing isolated any more, neither things nor beings, neither earth nor heaven; but everything is gathered up in the relation. For to step into pure relation is not to disregard everything but to see everything in the Thou, not to renounce the world but to establish it on its true basis. To look away from the world, or to stare at it, does not help a man to reach God; but he who sees the world in Him stands in His presence. ‘Here world, there God’ is the language of It; ‘God in the world’ is another language of It;…but to…include the whole world in the Thou…this is full and complete relation….

“Of course God is the ‘wholly Other’; but He is also the wholly Same, the wholly Present. Of course He is the Mysterium Tremendum that appears and overthrows; but He is also the mystery of the self-evident, nearer to me than my I.

“If you explore the life of things and of conditioned being you come to the unfathomable, if you deny the life of things and of conditioned being you stand before nothingness, if you hallow this life you meet the living God.” (80-81)

Because of this, Buber describes the practice of the  I-Thou relation as prayer. “Two great servants pace through the ages, prayer and sacrifice. The man who prays pours himself out in unrestrained dependence, and knows that he has—in an incomprehensible way—an effect upon God, even though he obtains nothing from God…” (83)

Notice that the I-Thou relation is distinct from the idea of absorption. There is a sense of Otherness to the giving-and-receiving unity. Buber cites Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John when Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of the Father” while also saying “I am Thou and Thou art I.” “The Father and the Son, like in being…are the indissolubly real pair, the bearers of the primal relation, which from God to man is termed mission and command, from man to God looking and hearing, and between both is termed knowledge and love. In this relation the Son, though the Father dwells and works in him, bows down before the ‘greater’ and prays to him.” (85)

The two are distinct, yet one in relation. The Father and Son form a single word; in Buber’s grammar that word is I-Thou.

It is what we long for: a world in which people and things can be distinct and free but one in love. PlayFull describes this metaphysical aspiration as play. It is why we do what we do, to help people relinquish the desire to make Its of Thous, to play together. It is why our mission states we want to help others “play from the inside-out”—for play is ultimately a process of the heart.


Our PlayBook series features short reviews of books we recommend to help others lead playful lives. Click here for a list of otherPlayBook reviews and thank you for reading.

Quotations above are from:

Buber, Martin. I and Thou (New York, Scribner: 1986) 

21 November 2013

PlayFull Is Catching On All Over

Today, I had the privilege of engaging in three different life-giving conversations with some folks who are located in different cities scattered across the United States.

Thinking of it all just now makes me smile.

I had the chance to dream with future PlayFull board member Dave Marmion who lives in Austin, Texas.  We talked about what a board member does and noted that the PlayFull board will likely be anything but typical. Most boards are driven by financial concerns. The PlayFull board is driven by creativity.  While we don’t want to be na├»ve about money matters, I personally believe that if we can put money in its proper place we’ll discover that PlayFull comes as a breath of fresh air right from its very core.

Later this morning, I spoke with a man in Columbus, Ohio who is in the midst of starting a church in the inner city. We spoke of team dynamics and clarity of vision. We spoke of the challenge of managing transition well and the importance of listening to neighborhood rhythms. We entertained ideas about a PlayDate: an event hosted by PlayFull to enable the leadership team to creatively tackle obstacles they encounter.

Finally, I spoke with a woman living in St. Paul, Minnesota whose sacrificial service has birthed a unique church (with Christian Associates International) that touches the impoverished with the love of Christ.  Here’s a community that’s playful at its heart: they are willing to experiment. Their church does not look like a typical “Sunday morning” church. In fact, 100 percent of the offerings they receive goes to help those that can’t help themselves.

My heart is full because each conversation was marked by freedom and grace. There’s freedom to dream up new ventures. There’s grace to pursue these ventures and grace that removes the fear of failure.

I count it an honor to work alongside people like this and I am more convinced than ever that PlayFull’s mission is spot on. I’m grateful to those reading this for supporting and encouraging this unique work.

Thank you,


PlayFull offers coaching, team building and creative consulting. Write Troy to see how PlayFull can help you.

20 November 2013

Worry Is No Laughing Matter. Not.

Worry officially stinks. Yes, that is the determination of a congressional subcommittee on the financial damage caused by the medical treatment of worry warts.

Of course, it's Hump Day and that means...Humor Day at PlayFull. So, yes, there was no such congressional study. These comics about worry, on the other hand, are very real. Take them to heart and quit worrying, friends! Because "worry officially stinks".

Don't worry; be happy: like PlayFull on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Do it now. You'll have one less thing to worry about later.

18 November 2013

If You Find A Droid

Handmade posters. We see them all over. Someone advertises a service or posts a notice of a lost pet; a teenager tries to drum up some babysitting jobs or a local musician offers piano lessons dirt-cheap. 

Here are some posters you've likely never seen--and they're bound to give you a chuckle.  Out of a larger list of 30 posters I saw earlier today, these are my top 10. 


1.Wanted: Dead and Alive.

2. Lost Wormhole.

3. If You See Klaus...

4. Lost Droids

5. Printer For Sale. Works Real Good.

6. Minions Wanted.

7. Like This Post. Very punny.

8. Missing Unicorn.

9. For Tough Times.

10. My Favorite: Lionel Richie.

PlayFull exists to help people and organizations play from the inside-out. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

14 November 2013

Thursday Thought: William Blake, On Detail

PlayFull exists to help people play from the inside-out. To keep up with thought-provoking content, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Thank you for reading.

13 November 2013

Truth In Advertising

Seeing these slogans that portray what some products really offer makes one realize just how much truth there actually is in advertising.  At PlayFull, Hump Day is Humor Day. Enjoy!


PlayFull hopes to bring some laughter into your life every Wednesday. Check back here for more humorous content, especially on Hump Day Humor Day. To keep up with all kinds of content that can help you play from the inside-out, like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter. Thank you for reading and, if you like, spread the word by sharing this post!

11 November 2013

Professor Conflict

Some years ago, when I was in the midst of starting a new church, I had a conflict to address. To be honest, I had many conflicts to address. Strike that. It actually got to the point where I felt like that’s all I was doing.

Conflict after conflict after conflict. Day after day after day. I’d get one matter resolved and another one would pop up.

I suspect many of you reading this can relate. I suspect many of you can say, “Yes, I’ve had times in my life like that, too.”

As hard as it was to go through that season, I’m glad I did because I learned a lot from it.

Of course, one big thing I learned from it is that conflict is a good teacher. In fact, I think it may be our best teacher. I say that because conflicts present us with opportunities to learn new things about ourselves, others, the world, the nature of relationship and God.

Notice I use the word “opportunities.” Conflict presents us with the option to learn, but conflict itself cannot force us to learn what it wants to teach us. That is up to us.

Think of conflict like a threshold. There is an open door to walk through. We do not know what awaits us on the other side because what we see from our side is something that appears dark to us. The irony is: when we seize the opportunity to take in what conflict can teach us, we discover another place filled with light. In fact, we are able to discern that the place we had once been in now seems to us as the darkness we perceived before crossing the threshold.

The door is open. It is up to us to walk through it.

I discovered this because when I came to the point where I had to deal with my twenty-seventh conflict in as many days I said to myself, “Not again! I am so sick of dealing with conflict. When can I be done with this so I can get on with ministry?”

That’s when the Spirit whispered to my heart: “….so you can ‘get on with ministry’? What do you think you’re here for?”

Please don’t think I’m crazy, but the conversation went something like this.


“What do you think you’re here for?”


“Yes, I know: but what is ‘ministry’?”

I had all the right answers: “Well, you know: teaching, leading, praying with people, mentoring, making disciples, serving.”

I sensed the Spirit say something like: “Huh, interesting. That’s what you think you’re here for.”

I wrestled with what ‘ministry’ meant. In my wrestling, I turned a phrase about ‘ministry’ from the Bible over and over in my head and heart.  (That’s what ministers do, right? Look for answers in the Bible.)

The phrase was this: “the ministry of reconciliation.”

It was the most immediate phrase that came to mind. And it was just what I needed.

I realized that the ministry God had given to me was not just any type of ministry. It was not even “ministry” how I had been defining it. It was “the ministry of reconciliation”.

Put in simpler terms, it was a work of peacemaking.

I was not accustomed to thinking of myself as a peacemaker at this point in my life so when the thought hit me that this was, indeed, the essence of Christian ministry it struck me as a paradigm shift.

“So, what you’re telling me is that my main job is to make peace?”

“Now you’re getting it. Why do you think I’ve given you so many chances to learn this lately?”

“I see.”

“Conflict is not an interruption to ministry. It is ministry.”

At that point I began to view conflict as a means for us to see the miracle of grace, mercy and forgiveness in action. In Christian lingo, conflict and the gospel go hand-in-hand. The good news of the gospel of Jesus is that wrong-doers (like me) can receive forgiveness and grace. Forgiveness sets us free and grace enables us to walk in hope. We do not have to fear being condemned, we are given a second chance. In fact, the grace is limitless so we receive countless chances—even if we don’t realize it.

Dealing with conflict forms the very fabric of any ministry that claims to be good-news, gospel. Without conflict there is no gospel.

So, in PlayFull’s team building and coaching work helping people navigate conflict in a healthy way is core. We believe that it is impossible to truly lead playful lives without conflict. The playful response views conflict as a chance to learn holistically, in mind and heart. And the playful response views conflict as a chance to live out forgiveness. PlayFull believes that the freedom of grace brings joy without equal.

Be blessed,


Write Troy to inquire about coaching or team building. Write Doreen if you’re interested in spiritual direction. Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. Here’s to play!

09 November 2013

Healthy Teamwork

Today I am in Houston to help facilitate a team building event with two colleagues of mine. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of coming alongside all kinds of teams for similar events. Every event contains interactive modules that aim to fulfill three purposes: 

1. Articulate a unified vision.
2. Develop understanding of one another.
3. Establish habits and protocols that encourage healthy “as-you-go” teamwork.

It has been my experience that, if any one of these arenas suffers, the whole team suffers—and ultimately the project itself could fold.

Team members that do not have a clear, common vision move in all different directions.  If the vision is murky or unshared, the team will disperse and you will be left with neither teamwork nor accomplishment. Sports teams can attest to the unifying power of a shared goal.

But common vision is not enough. Team members must also develop an awareness and understanding of one another. Let’s say I’m an extrovert and I happen to serve on a team with an introvert. As an extrovert, I think “on the fly” and “out loud”. This means I thrive most when I can meet with others and have time and space to interact, ask questions, and verbally summarize ideas.

But the introvert is different. They work best when they have time and space to think quietly. They may need more time to process something before they feel prepared to give a thoughtful response. In fact, I’ve seen that when introverts are given this time and space they are able to articulate an idea more deeply and cohesively than I could with my on-the-fly approach.

To foster healthy teamwork leaders need to provide space for both types of people to contribute in ways that maximize their strengths. To do that, however, we must know one another’s strengths.

You can imagine the many factors that need to be taken into account with this. Teams are made up of a diverse array of individuals. For example, there are...

...thinkers and feelers
...those who are intuitive and those who are more concrete
...those who thrive in the midst of routine and those who need lots of variety
...those who “work smarter” and those who “work harder”
...those who influence people to change direction and those who are good at just being “with” people right where they are.

With such complexity, the work of “knowing” one another is never finished.

So…healthy teams need a unified vision and healthy teams know one another’s strengths well. But a third ingredient is still needed. A commitment to some “high ground” practices that govern the way team members relate to each other week-in, week-out.

This third arena of healthy teaming concerns questions such as:

How will we handle interpersonal conflict when it arises?
What interpersonal communication skills should we practice to prevent needless conflict?
What structures will be in place to provide safe space for ideological conflict?
What role will everyone on the team play?
What values will govern the way we relate to each other day-in, day-out?
What habits will we encourage to nurture health in team meetings?

Of course, there are many more questions to consider than these but this gives you an idea of the large scope of issues concerned.

In my experience, many conflicts arise as a result of “small things”. For example, something is said that rubs someone the wrong way, yet the person offended feels that the something is “not that big of a deal” (and they don’t want to risk seeming petty) so they just “let it go” and don’t address the offense. Over time, lots of these little “somethings” begin to pile up, and they form One Big Something. The offended party begins to make connections and they begin to see a “pattern”. Before you know it, they assign passive-aggressive intentions where none may exist and they begin to demonize the other.

Conflicts are further exacerbated by the fact that the team has established no rhythm in which time for collaborative innovation is regularly juxtaposed by periods of implementation. Teams tend to get stuck in one side of the pair. On the one hand, some teams never stop “innovating”—to the extent that nothing ever actually gets done. Sufficient time is not given to work out a plan, the team grows restless and thinks up a whole new idea (usually as a way to “escape” the “failure” of the old idea).

Or, some teams get stuck with “what works” so they fail to take time to think of new pathways for growth and change. They spend all their time maintaining what “has been” so they forget to consider the future (or they simply think of the future as a clone of the present—more of the same). After a while, the project begins to stagnate.

If parameters are set to establish time-frames and rhythms for each of these creative arcs (innovation and implementation) the team will thrive. When these rhythms are established those who prefer one side of the creative arc over the other side can be at ease.  For example, when a project is in the “implementation phase”, innovators can be patient and wait for the right time to think of fresh approaches. On the other hand, when a project is in a phase where they are brainstorming new ideas, those who are “maintainers” can rest at ease knowing the team will devise effective means of seeing the idea through to fulfillment. Such patterns help establish deeper bonds of trust in one another.

This relationship between innovation and implementation stays on the “high ground” when concrete structures are created to govern the cycle. Most teams don’t put forethought into the rhythm and realize too late that one or the other is lacking. The creating of the structural space for each side of the creative cycle represents this kind of “as-you-go” teaming that marks healthy teams. It is something that never stops. It creates a context for invigorating challenge as well as stabilizing praxis.

But there are other “as-you-go” kinds of practices needed. Believe it or not, in my team building work, I even walk teams through exercises designed to help them relate to one another when they are in their weekly meetings. Small things like being good listeners, minimizing the distractions of technology in meetings and agreeing to be punctual to meetings come into play in nurturing an environment where people feel safe and secure.

Teamwork requires common vision, an understanding of one another, and a commitment to working together in healthy ways day-in, day-out. When all those ingredients come together, it’s exciting to see what a diverse group of people can accomplish. The result is greater than the sum of its parts.


PlayFull offers interactive, fun team building experiences! Write Troy Cady to discover how PlayFull can help your team thrive.