Friday, October 4, 2013

Teambuilding in Tuscany

My quest to change the world (or at least how the world views work place safety) by sharing my passion for safety culture change and employee engagement has provided me the opportunity to travel and see the world. About 10 months ago I received an email from an Italian involved in a consortium of companies. His role was safety related and he noted he had just finished reading my book – Lean Safety. We exchanged emails and I encouraged him to invite me to facilitate a Lean Safety workshop for his consortium member companies. Not long after our email exchange my wife and I were invited to spend two weeks in Tuscany by some great friends who were renting a villa for the month of September. I immediately recognized the opportunity for my idea of a work life balanced trip – a few days of work mixed with a few weeks of fun!

Some find travel grueling. I find it rewarding and energizing because it provides me the opportunity to touch people’s lives by sharing my passion. As an example, I just received an email from an attendee to one of my recent workshops in Sydney, Australia. She closed her email with this statement – “I am using my newfound skills and sharing them with anyone who will listen.” That’s the kind of feedback that makes my travel rewarding. Yet, I will admit if I am traveling alone my free time for evening meals and sightseeing is not nearly as much fun as when my wife accompanies me to share those experiences. Shared experiences to me are one of the great joys of life and our trip to Italy, to both meet with my business contact in Rome and spend two weeks in a Tuscan villa, was the zenith of shared experiences.

Work is a shared experience. People change jobs because they do not feel like they are part of the experience – they sense they are on the outside looking in. Lean leaders understand this and try to engage all employees in a customer focused team effort to improve and grow the business. Two weeks at the villa provided many examples for us lean leaders. Let me share a few.

• Leadership – The couple who rented the villa and invited us to stay rent free are leaders. They lead by example. They are givers – not takers. They do not have egos. They never ask if you need help but instead take the lead to get things done without ever being asked. They engage others by suggestion – not direction. They engage people in doing good for others just by their example. They are role models for me and could be for any leader. Do you lead by example? Do you engage your reports?
• Teamwork – Sharing a villa with 8-12 other people brought out the best in people. Everyone pitched in to help. While a meal of porcini risotto, asparagus risotto, fennel salad, caprese salad, chicken Provencal and fig/pear tarts was prepared by some the others lined up in the kitchen after the meal to quickly dispatch the stack of dishes. We then reconvened at the dinner table for some teambuilding. We shared grappa, lemoncello, dessert wine and stories of our daily adventures in the Tuscan hill towns and countryside. I felt as if I was part of an energized and focused team. That is what people seek in their workplace. Are you building a sense of teamwork in your workplace?
• Energy and Passion – Effective teams have an aura of shared energy and passion. I was given the unique opportunity to spend time at the villa with seven motivated, talented and very intelligent 20-somethings. They brought energy to our villa team. When asked questions about their professional lives they opened up and shared their passions, concerns and hopes for the future. I fed off of their passion. They are the kind of people I love to be around. People, who challenge your thinking, inspire you to think deeper and are open to learning from others. Our discussions were centered on ideas – not people. They energized all who were there. Do you energize those around you at work?
• Integrating New Team Members - Effective teams incorporate new members and make them feel welcome. During the month, and our two week stay, family and friends of our hosts arrived and departed. Some of the guests were on their first trip abroad to a country where English is not the first language. They were driven around and guided by more experienced travelers like Sandy and I. The reward for doing this was the opportunity to watch the joy and wonder on their faces as they experienced the Italian culture, landscape and history. If you have ever taken your children to Disney World you know what I mean. When Mickey or another Disney character appeared rather than look at them I was observing the look of wonder on my children’s faces. It was a magical and indeed the best view in the magic kingdom.

After a few days of being guided these new travelers gained confidence and grew in their ability to make their own decisions. We could then turn them loose and felt a sense of pride in our contribution to their growth. Lean leaders experience this same feeling as they challenge and grow their people. It is the most rewarding thing we can do as human beings - to develop and grow others. How do you integrate new team members into your organization? How are you growing and developing your reports?

Some miscellaneous observations -

• I de-bunked the no carb diet. I consumed pasta or pizza, and washed it down with great wines, at least once a day for two weeks and I gained no weight. I also walked about 4-8 miles per day over the hilly Tuscan terrain. I have always and will continue to believe eating everything in moderation, plus moderate exercise, to be a realistic method of weight control.
• The cost of fuel. Fuel prices are advertised in Euros per liter. Not very meaningful to those of us accustomed to the price per gallon model. After I pumped around $150 of diesel fuel into the VW car I had rented I understood fuel was very expensive for consumers in Italy. If we were paying around $8.00 a gallon in the US we would all walk more.
• Learn or re-learn to act like a child. I laughed uncontrollably each and every day at the villa. The shared experiences and close contact with my villa team led to these outbursts of laughter. Each evening we gathered near the pool, the highest point at the villa, sipped wine, and waited for and watched the sunset. Our wine fueled laughter was as dominant as the serious discussions each and every night. As adults, especially adults at work, we are way too serious. Lighten up and laugh like a child once in a while. It was good for me and it will be good for you.
• Reading is fun. I had not read a book cover to cover in a few years. A few weeks before our departure I purchased a book and spent an hour or so each afternoon reading. The villa was located in the countryside where there is little if any external noise. Sitting outside with a book, a glass of wine, a bowl of delicious bright green olives like I had never tasted and complete silence was meditative. And it was a shared experience. My host, an avid reader, was just feet away experiencing the same environment yet lost in a different story. We had a shared, silent experience almost every day. He re-taught me the joy and escapism of reading.

I will be attending the AME International Lean Conference in Toronto, on October 21-25. On Monday, October 21, I will facilitate a full day Lean Safety workshop. Each year I look forward to re-connecting with my many AME friends at this event. I hope to see you there. Stay safe.