Not getting the effective teaming you need to succeed? It could be a problem with your learning design.

Several years ago, I was part of a faculty at an esteemed professional services firm that taught core consulting skills to new hires who had been recruited right from college. The training involved working through a customer engagement within a team setting and was nearly two weeks long. Because of the length and complexity of the training, the facilitators needed to encourage and enable participant engagement. In thinking about the audience and creating a learning design with compelling content, Winnie the Pooh came to mind. Stay with me here…


How Good Learning Design and Winnie the Pooh Can Help You Achieve an Effective Teaming Outcome

Winnie the Pooh is playful, compassionate, authentic, curious, and resilient. You might not immediately consider him resilient. Although he doesn’t have Tigger’s bounciness, he displays a remarkable ability to bounce back while pretending to be a little black rain cloud. Really, he’s got it all.

But for this audience specifically, it’s Winnie the Pooh’s playfulness that was top of mind. His joyful dances and songs about exercise, and how it “puts him in the mood for food,” inspired me to think about how to build playfulness into the learning design of an otherwise challenging two weeks.  More importantly, how to make this relevant to the world they are entering?

Generally speaking, I hold “energizers” in low regard. My firm belief is that if the learning design is right, there’s no need to have activities only to build up people’s energy. In addition, I’m a learning professional with high standards and believe that everything we do should have some connection to learning. Having a group of participants sing and dance like Winnie the Pooh seems like a stretch. As the bear himself might ask, “Why bother?” And, as he himself might respond, “There is everything and nothing to learn.” Let’s explore my thinking.

These new consultants – some of the best in their graduating class – needed to learn how to work effectively on a team. They also needed to learn how to take the work, but not themselves, too seriously. The ability to not take oneself too seriously, in part, would impact their success in this highly competitive team environment. Funny thing is, they already knew how to do both since they were once children and had been on countless teams in school. So, we zeroed in on what they already knew by asking them to:

  • Think about the best team they were ever on.
  • Now, think of the worst team.
  • Finally, think about what both those teams had in common.

The answer, of course, is you. The best team and the worst team had you as a member. Which means that you contributed to the team dynamic.

What I know to be true from my work (and my own experience on teams) is that different versions of you show up. The way you interact, converse, decide, solve problems, and celebrate successes isn’t always the same because teams aren’t the same and you aren’t a one-dimensional cartoon character.


Accessing Your Inner Child for More Effective Teaming

Effective teaming requires each of us to bring our full selves – our authentic, curious, resilient, compassionate, and playful selves. Like Pooh, we had these attributes in abundance as children because they are innately natural. But life has a way of testing, challenging, or convincing us that our true nature isn’t in our best interest. So, for many adults, access to these innate superpowers is lost. But they still exist in all of us and can be found. The key is to rediscover them and bring them to bear (see what I did there?) with an intention to be as productive and effective as a team member as possible.

Now, back to that team of recent college graduates and linking them to Pooh. As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of energizers. But, I was willing to accept that some form of play needed to be injected into the learning experience. Where Winnie the Pooh really shines and where we can learn from him is that play is the physical manifestation of imagination.  Pooh, who never takes himself too seriously, has many loyal and true friends – who he listens to, solves problems with, and enjoys spending time with.

Life is hard, work can be as well. So, hum a little tune. Bend down and touch your toes. Remember that you were once very young and saw the world with a sense of wonder. Even though you are no longer so very young, that sense of wonder can be rediscovered. In the words of Pooh, “If it’s not Here, that means it’s out There.” 

To this day some of the participants see me and say “You’re the Winnie the Pooh guy!” with big smiles on their faces. There are far worse things to be.