The Spirit of Team

Surprising synchronicity. That’s what I would call the events that began my personal education to some of the fundamentals effective teamwork.

First I get a call from a client requesting general information on my programs with a specific interest in team building. Then I notice that a train the team builder class is being given the next day by a local master of teamwork. I sign up for the class. It’s a great class. The facilitator takes a chance in the class and talks about the basic element of “energy” in teams. I’m fascinated by this discussion because it is fundamental to my own approach. It’s clear this very respected team consultant incorporates spiritual perspectives in his work.

Immediately following the class I fly to Portland Oregon for a meditation retreat at The Nityananda Institute, I had signed up for the week before. It will be my first ashram experience. I don’t know what to expect, other than I greatly respect the Swami of this ashram and have only experienced a sense of balance and clarity from his followers. My brief exposure to some ashrams in the early 80’s has me wondering if things will be very crunchy granola with lots of competition and lots of rules. From what I know of Chetanananda, I doubt that’s what I’ll find.

Upon arrival at the ashram, I discover that my “seva” (work) assignment is “The Bern.” I am delighted because I imagine this means I’ll be involved in some kind of gardening for two hours each day.

The next day I show up for “seva” promptly – ready to weed, plant, and prune, only to find out I’m to help build about eighty feet of gravel road around the east end of The Bern. A little disappointed, I start likening the work ahead to prison labor. I look down at my brand new, shiny white Reeboks and wonder if I should request a cleaner assignment. They are the only shoes I brought.

I decide not to whine, but to trust what’s been handed me. After all, I’m here to focus on the spiritual for a week, I assume the “material” will be taken care of through that focus. Either the shoes will survive and clean up good, or I’ll buy some new ones. Then I remember that my left shoulder has been bothering me. I quickly decide that the work will do me good. After all, I won’t be going to the gym this week.

It appears there are about six of us to do the work. Our “foreman,” Kerry, lives at the ashram. Kerry looks to be about five foot six inches, very strong, forty-something, with mirth and determination shining from his eyes, he’s quick to smile.

I still have no idea of the scope of the project we are about to begin. Shovel in hand, I’m thinking – “Knock a little of the bank off here, throw the dirt over there, I wonder what we’ll be doing tomorrow?” I soon find that as I dig to shape the bank of The Bern to the slope of the road, Kerry sees larger possibilities with each displaced spade of dirt. I realize we’ve got a Ramses II, here (master builder of Egypt) and inform Kerry of his new identity. I now envision us reworking all five acres of the back lot. I begin to sing “Tell ole Pharaoh, Let My People Go.” I’m having fun, and hope the others tolerate my brand of humor.

I begin to notice that in-spite of the vigor required by the job, no one is complaining. Everyone works with a sense of fun, or maybe even joy. It seems that whenever anyone has a need someone is there to fulfill it, whether it’s a cup of cold water, an extra hand for a heavy lift, or simply a break from a particular task.

Neither is there any gender prejudice. You might call Denise our V.P. of Landscaping. She never stops. Even on my walks through the yard during relaxation time, I find her attending to detail in the flower-beds. One of our strongest, most diligent workers is a woman named Jeanie. She doesn’t live at the ashram but lives near-by and I get the sense she pitches in often.

As I wonder at the energy and efficiency we muster individually and as a team, my “yeah buts” start to emerge. Yeah but – we’re not really working with a deadline. Yeah but – we don’t need to show a profit. Yeah but – for most of us this is novel and we get to go back to our real jobs next week. Still, we get a lot done and have fun doing it. I wonder if this is a clear example of the level of energy and synergy that happens when people work together with their hearts open. After all when we’re not doing “Seva” here, we’re meditating with the idea of expanding our hearts and our realization of oneness. We’re honing our commitment to an openness to life under the guidance of a spiritual master.

My fantasies return to Egypt and I speculate that this kind of open-hearted cooperation centered in production of something for the good of all and to honor the unifying principle of Spirit is what allowed for the miraculous building of the pyramids. At the end of the week we have built our road. It will no-doubt be refined through the unending diligence of Kerry and Denise, but it looks darn good, even as it is.

When I get home I reread an institute newsletter and discover Kerry has run a successful bakery business and my curiosity heightens. In fact, from his business success he has just donated a million dollars to the ashram. I’m sure he has had to infuse teams with the spirit we’ve worked with at the ashram. I’m also sure they have had to meet deadlines, show a profit, and sustain their openness performing their real jobs. So, I decide it might be useful to identify what made my seva experience productive and fun, and apply those qualities and intentions to work with any team. Some of the key elements are to:

Work with a sense of abandon to the greater good; align with your sense of direction and higher purpose

  • Tap and use personal passion.
  • Commit to finding fun in work and punctuate it with rest, attunement and refreshment.
  • Find and enter the rhythm and flow of the work, relationships, and vision.
  • Respect, include, and support the interests of the team.
  • Surrender – say YES to demands of the work, the necessity to stretch, to perform different tasks.
  • Acknowledge and connect with sources of energy or power.
  • Give of yourself. Serve with openness, flow and spirit.

Overcome defensiveness and resistance – contribute openness, inspiration, ideas and action.


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