I had just finished sharing the story of getting arrested in my college dorm room for being obnoxiously drunk at the age of 19… with my team.
I was managing the marketing team and we were kicking off one of the most important team building activities we had ever done: sharing our life stories.
Getting arrested was the perfect moment to share. It was a crucible in my journey to becoming a better human. An inflection point that changed everything.
Even better: it was just the right amount of vulnerability to model what I hoped would become a meaningful session over a couple of hours at our biannual company retreat in McCall, Idaho.
It wasn’t so personal that it would make everyone uncomfortable. But it was certainly revealing enough to get a couple looks of amazement/bewilderment (I was a different guy at 19, give me a break).
Just what I wanted. I had them. Now they knew that this wasn’t just an opportunity to share a list of professional accomplishments, but rather a chance to connect personally in a meaningful way.
Over the next couple hours, we went around the circle, sharing our life stories one by one. At the end, we had laughed, we had cried, and there was only one appropriate way to wrap things up… with a group hug.
To really understand the power of the session, you have to drop what’s in your head when you think of companies, business retreats, and team meetings. Instead, think of something more like summer camp, but for adults. Or perhaps a weekend in a cabin with some of your closest friends.
We’ve built the company to be a place where people can show up whole. To show up whole, you have to 1) share who you truly are and 2) be seen and appreciated for being that person.
Too often we let business become a charade in which we’re all actors playing serious business people.
Anyone who has taken time to look inward for an extended period of time knows the truth: we’re all just kids trying to find belonging and love as we find our way through the world.
Sharing your life’s story with the people you work with everyday is a powerful way – perhaps the most powerful way – to set aside the charade and show up for real.
If it sounds like something you might like to try with your team, here are some prompts and questions to get you started:
- When you look back at your life, what are the 5-8 most defining moments? (This is the prompt we used on the marketing team at that initial team retreat)
- What do you wish other people knew about you?
- Going back as far as you like, tell us how you came to be who you are today.
- If you we’re writing an autobiography, what would be the summary you’d put on the book jacket?
- Who are the people who have most shaped your life to this point? If it helps, think of 1-3 from childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and your current life stage.
If you decide to take the leap and connect with your team, consider setting a few expectations:
- Set aside 20-30 minutes per person and try to do them all in the same day if possible
- Ask that no one take notes, but rather that they focus on being fully present and appreciate the stories as they’re shared
- Leave phones, tablets, and computers aside and on silent for the full period of time
- Agree that nothing shared will leave this circle unless two people agree to allow one another to share their stories with others
- Make sure everyone knows that there is no expectation for how vulnerable they be. They can keep it strictly professional and share the story of how they came to this career, or they can drill down on the personal side as far as they’d like.
- As always, harassment and abuse are never ok. Nothing should be shared that could be felt as creating an unsafe work environment.
If you do this exercise and have learnings to share, drop me a note and let me know how it went.
I hope you enjoy being more connected to your team.