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Bring Something, Not Everything

When I was in fifth grade, my class read a book about magical castles. Our homework assignment was a group project: to make our own three-dimensional castles. My team of four talked excitedly in the school hallway about our initial ideas. We decided we would go to Megan’s house to put our ideas into action since she lived closest to the school. 

A few days later, chattering about our ideas for the castle, we arrived at Megan’s house just as her mom was taking something out of the oven. I hoped it was chocolate chip cookies. Instead, she pulled out three oven-baked, circular layers of clay that she said would make the perfect tiered castle.

Megan’s mom stacked the circles, securing the layers with glue. She formed an entire castle while our group ate an after-school snack. Seeming to enjoy the project – and having a clear vision for the castle – Megan’s mom suggested we should paint it gray, put a red flag on top and add a horse or two to guard the front door. She rushed out of the room to find supplies: gray paint, paintbrushes and a few plastic horses she happened to find in a toy bin. But she returned to an abandoned castle – our entire group had lost interest in the project. Brian and Erin were outside doing flips on the trampoline. I was having a handstand contest with Megan. 

In teamwork, there is often the idea that to show our capabilities, the smartest person should do the talking. We might think we should come to the table with fully formed ideas (the entire castle), setting our brilliant ideas down with a resounding thud and guiding others toward our vision. 

But being too attached to an idea minimizes the fun of collaboration. We miss out on learning the things that other people are smart about. It results in a disengaged group and limits the creative process that can emerge when each of us comes with a single, tiny piece of the castle, working together to create something none of us could have imagined on our own. 

In the teams I work with, the “castles” that emerge from a group working together and learning from each other in this way are the most magical castles of all.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.