‘Spinning plates and Juggling balls’ – How to work in a team

It’s interesting how many times as humans we come together in groups or as teams.  We’re often filled with questions like ‘what’s our primary focus?’, ‘what is the purpose of this gathering?’, or ‘will it be predictable, or not?’

Invariably they’re all about achieving something. A goal, an outcome, or at least a plan for a future something.  Ideally, there might be a specific result in mind, or an eagerness for that sense of achievement at a personal, psychological, social, or spiritual achievement.

As part of the NHS North West R&D teams Academy of Creative Minds programme, I was invited to reflect on how often I would consciously think about the following 5 W’s:

  • What I want to achieve
  • When I want to achieve it
  • Why it’s important to me
  • Where I want to achieve it
  • What it will look like/feel like when I achieve it

I was encouraged to use my senses to really activate my imagination, something we all seem to be socialised to do less and less as adults.  Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk illustrates (literally) how children are instinctively creative but then that creativity gets ‘schooled’ out of them as they grow.

I wonder, how often do we consciously think about creativity like this in teams? What methods do we use to help teams or groups to work together as effectively as children could?  Today I was exposed to a group of amazing people from the world of performing arts.  Through a number of exercises, they were able to get a group of academics, researchers, and clinicians to do a whole range of things that, when we woke up this morning, we had never imagined we would be able to do.

Owen Gaynor kicked us off and asked us if we thought we would be able to juggle 5 balls by the end of the session.  Being the optimist I said yes – I have come to learn that anything is possible, and given that these guys were at the top of their game, why wouldn’t they be able to help us to learn how to achieve this challenging task?  Sure enough, we exceeded our own expectations.  In the end, we were able to juggle 8 balls! Sadly we didn’t quite manage 14, but tomorrow is another day.

I couldn’t quite believe that 10 minutes later I was holding 6 spinning plates and as the day progressed we were encouraged to:

All of the above encouraged us to work together, think together, laugh together and learn together. Now, you’re probably wondering about the point am I trying to make. So here it is:

These creative tools and insights get across a message that no report, talking head, research paper can ever quite achieve.  In life, we often talk about juggling balls and spinning plates when things get too much for us.  Today I could see how working together, breaking down complex information into bite sized chunks, presenting it, and/or actively encouraging others to participate, can help teams to really ‘get’ what it means to work as a team. also to ‘get’ why it’s important to understand our role and have clarity of purpose. Presenting it in such a creative way is what really drove the point home.

It doesn’t come naturally to work together as a team; it takes time and effort.  The role and importance of having really effective team leadership is not to be underestimated. Those that are really good at it do it effortlessly and make it seem like anyone can do it.  The truth is, you need to learn it, rehearse it, and rehearse it some more before you can perform it.  Excellent team leaders are the ones that prepare, research, understand the context, and practice this skill. Most importantly, they are the ones that may not be able to juggle 8 balls on their own, but could collect their peers and coach a team to juggle 8 balls together.

4 thoughts on “‘Spinning plates and Juggling balls’ – How to work in a team

  1. Wow! what an impressive and new way to learn about team work and leadership. Thanks so much for sharing this Su. I hope that you enjoy the rest of the course.

  2. Su, it was great to meet you and I enjoyed reading this! Thanks for taking the time to write it. Hope we get to converse again before too much longer! Alex

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