relationships, team building and playback theatre

We recently performed for a corporate client in the financial sector. The team of about 30 staff were working with the founder of the Critical Management Group, Marc Stigter on a longer program designed to guide them through what Tuckman might call the ‘forming and storming’ stages of their development. We were brought in early on in this process to do two main things; to model high performance teamwork and to provide an opportunity for the group to reflect and share their ideas about the team.

Our facilitator opened the invitation for stories simply by asking the participants to reflect on a time where they witnessed or were part of a high functioning team. We then heard stories from several members of the group. What struck me was a common theme that ran through each of the stories; the importance of strong personal relationships to teamwork.

One story was of a high-functioning team from a previous workplace. The team was full of talented individuals and senior management decided to split them up in an attempt to pollinate the rest of the organisation with the ‘magic’. The woman who told the story reflected that management failed to realise the magic of this team was based on strong working relationships more than the talent of the individual team members. Another participant spoke about a strong friendship that she had built with a colleague and how that had enhanced her engagement and motivation at work.

But perhaps the most surprising and powerful story shared as part of our performance was the one that hit most at the humanity and heart of us all. The man who shared the story had been managing a new team that was geographically spread across the country. Within a short space of time, coincidentally three members of the team were diagnosed with breast cancer. What followed was a very moving account of how the entire team came together to support the women. Despite the geographical distance, close personal relationships were formed and the group found a meaningful bond. Tragically, one of the three women lost her battle with cancer and the team found themselves grieving together for a friend and colleague. The work team had become a family. Significantly, the man told us, this challenging time was followed by a period of very high performance teamwork and staff turnover remained at zero for an unprecedented number of years.

After this story had been shared and we had performed it back for the group, I could tell that something significant had occurred in the room. It was clear that the story had had an emotional impact on everyone and that the group had gained a new insight into one of their colleagues. This story and others shared within our performance had played a role in building trust and understanding within the team. It had also allowed the group to articulate something that they crave for the future of their own team; stronger personal relationships.

In my time as a performer with Melbourne Playback, I’ve noticed how playback theatre has a knack for connecting people in this way and helping build relationships. When someone shares a story and the group is encouraged to listen and reflect on the story in a deeper way, a shared understanding is created. Through story we learn about each other. We reveal our values and identify what motivates each of us.

I’ve seen friendships form between audience members at our public performances and between participants in our workshops. Similarly, the stories that we share as part of our rehearsal process help build a deeper understanding between our own ensemble members. I believe that the strong personal relationships developed through this process play a critical role in our own success as a team, both on the stage and behind the scenes.

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