Keep Your Team Mindfully Centered - Just Breathe

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When the going gets tough, teams often forget Benjamin Franklin’s advice on collaboration: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” In business as in revolution, that advice is as sound as any – yet not always followed. A study from the American Psychological Association formally concluded about team failure something most leaders have known, “It's because stress brings on a loss of team perspective – the sense of "we-ness" that helps team members connect and coordinate to get the job done.”

The increasing pace of change, increasing ambient stress, and demands of business and life are reasons “mindfulness” has become so popular. Magazines like Forbes and HBR now regularly post articles on meditation and mindfulness practices. Mindfulness resources are increasingly found in the workplace through benefits and on-site classes. And, as with all new things, there’s healthy debate about what it is and who it’s for, as read in Amy Jen Su’s article “If Mindfulness Makes you Uncomfortable, It’s Working.” If you’re one still wondering about if it’s a religion or cult or otherwise just weird, read Seth Gillihan’s mindfulness myth-buster in Psychology Today.

 

So, how does mindfulness contribute to that sense of “we-ness” that fails under stress?

We have written about the mindfulness benefits for teams that share an eating practice and fitness practice. But articles on “Centering” practices like Fast Company’s “The Business Case for Meditation" almost always show a picture of one centered person seated amidst the chaos. Since work and life happens mostly in teams, here are two of our five mindfully centered practices for teams.

Intention Setting – Not Just for Buddhists Anymore

Setting intentions is increasingly a means to realize how you want to live or the impact you want to have. It’s an essential aspect of Buddhism and yoga and expands on goal setting to include a sense of why and the greater value. But anyone can set an intention for a day, a meeting, a debate, or sharing feedback. In his book, “The Buddha Walks Into The Office,” Lodro Rinzler gives a simple example, “My intention is to be a bit more patient with my co-workers.” Intentions can be of deep resolve and they can be of simple steps – for individuals and teams.

 

Intentions can be of deep resolve and they can be of simple steps – for individuals and teams

Setting intentions can also be a powerfully guiding group effort. Mindfully centered teams don’t have meetings where people ask, “Why are we here?” Starting a meeting with a stated intention provides focus and makes plain the intent behind the goal. When a person sharing feedback states their intention in sharing it, it can open the ears of the receiver. Simpler than Mission, Purpose, Vision or Values, a consistent intention-setting practice can optimize a team’s efficiency and effectiveness on a daily basis.

Breathing – calming, energizing, balancing

We breath every day – and on more stressful days we breath with shallow, rapid breathe and with deep sighs to catch up. Angela Wilson outlines the physiology of pranayama (breathing) and how breathing drives the body’s nervous system. Mindfully centered teams prompt each other to breath intentionally during the day to calm when stressed, energize when down and balance when off center. These three techniques work well, in our experience:

The three-part yogic breath is a simple practice that grounds attention at the base and expands to fill both body and mind. The three-part breath fills the lungs to capacity – something people just don’t do. We teach it as a brief group exercise suitable to begin any meeting.

Bhastrika Pranayama, or “bellows breath” is energizing practice that opens the flow of internal energy upward and stimulates the body in many ways. Bhastrika is especially valuable during the challenging hours of mid-afternoon, and when following a sub-energizing lunch.

Alternate nostril breathing, or “Nadi Sodhana” is a near silent technique of alternating breaths between the nostrils. Nadi Sodhana creates a greater sense of physical and mental balance – particularly useful after a brisk debate or difficult decision.

While it might seem odd for a group of people in a room or conference call to take a 2 minute breathing break, groups that adopt the practice are stunned at the effect and at the subtle increase in positive team dynamic that builds over time.

APP offers personal and group training in these practice areas as well as on-going support and coaching. Click here for free tools!