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Sparking Joy in your Team

‘We need to find our way back to one another. To find our joy again’

Sitting online in another Zoom call with another team in a ‘discovery’ session - hearing from the team where they find themselves and where they aspire to be - the word ‘joy’ sparked for me. This possibly because it is one that I had previously seldom heard used in a business and organisational context. As team coaches, most teams talk to us about wanting to do things faster and better, achieving ‘results’, ‘success’, ‘outcomes’ and ‘high performance’. They’re comfortable talking about their alignment, cohesion, communication, coalescence, even collaboration; but - in the past – rarely about something as (choose your preferred word!) soft/ fluffy/messy/ emotional as ‘joy’.

Yet the pandemic and resulting current response to ‘return to work’ or work in a ‘hybrid’ way, has signalled a sea-change for teams on emotions and what to do about them. Through almost two years of the Covid-19 crisis, the teams we have been coaching have faced fear, grief, loss, sadness, frustration, anger, boredom, worry, demotivation and (a new part of our pandemic vocabulary) ‘languishing’. Languishing – is attributed to a variety of sources but is now widely thought to have been coined by sociologist Corey Keyes. It is described as ‘apathy, a sense of restlessness or feeling unsettled or an overall lack of interest in life of the things that typically bring you joy’ (Fielding, 2021). Many teams we are coaching are noticing the impact of these deep-felt emotions when unacknowledged and in comments like:

  • ‘We’re simply pushing through’

  • ‘We feel disconnected from one another, although we’re having many more meetings. Everything feels transactional and focused on getting things done’.

  • ‘We’re working harder than ever but its feels like we’re wading through deep mud. We’re just not creating traction’.

  • ‘We’re on autopilot and we’re also struggling to get the teams reporting to us to activate’.

‘That which we resist, persists’ is a widely held belief on emotions. And these seem to be teams and times characterised by persistence and perseverance, pushing emotions aside, digging deep and doubling down in their task and transactional focus. The last months have been a masterclass in survival. Pressures to perform have heightened as boards and stakeholders have indicated that outputs, targets, and growth will no longer be put on hold or adjusted as the world navigates its way through the pandemic. ‘We just need to get back to normal’ seems to be the implicit message.

Yet, as the team on the Zoom call keenly felt, ignoring the emotions within a team, minimising the social connection and overlooking the impact of levity and things like joy, play and fun - has a strong impact. And one that might feel counterproductive to teams wanting to raise the bar on their performance. All work and no play don’t just create dull teams, they create teams that are less likely to be resilient, agile, and innovative. Paradoxically, they are less likely to perform in a way that would build high performance.

Joy – as Barbara Frederickson showcased in her ‘broaden-and-build- theory’ (Frederickson, 2004) - broadens an individual and team’s repertoire of actions and thoughts – sparking play, experimentation, creativity, connection, collaboration – and builds wellbeing. This creates a positive cycle. So, sparking joy, whilst possibly feeling counterintuitive and unproductive, is exactly what should be prescribed for teams as they end 2021.

As team coaches at Teamery, we advocate strongly for teams to pause, rest, reflect, and play, have fun, spark joy.

Sparking joy is not only about team games nights and crazy hats (though these can help). There are practical levers which we introduce to teams as joy-starters.

These include:

  1. Building ways of working in the team that deepen harmony and flow – Forming strong interpersonal bonds through telling our stories, connecting about who we are beyond our work personas and being able to play to our strengths within the team.

  2. Being clear on the meaning and impact of the team’s work – Understanding the ‘why’ for the team and a compelling purpose, with clear roles and lines of contribution for all the team members

  3. Acknowledging and celebrating – Providing recognition and appreciation for the team and pausing to celebrate wins – big and small, with a focus on progress not only perfection.

As we head into what has traditionally been the ‘silly’ season, we invite you and your team to broaden and build beyond the languishing and dullness. Many of the teams we’re coaching at Teamery are pausing, gathering, connecting to their purpose, noticing what 2021 has built in them and who they have become, showcasing their learning and experimentation, and celebrating together. They’re intentionally sparking joy as a way of reinventing, re-energising and renewing. They’re using joy as a way of setting themselves up well for the new year ahead.

We invite you and your team to put joy on your agendas as you close out this year. Why not ask your team what sparks joy for them. And take it from there. It is likely to stop your team in their tracks and open a novel dialogue.

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