warm thoughts


Written on: May 10, 2022

By Pat Thornton, Publisher

patMonday, May 9 provided a reminder of the important things we need to focus on with winter in the rear-view mirror. First and foremost, winter was definitely waving goodbye from a distance as 93 degrees of heat with accompanying humidity greeted us on a day of outdoor learning about teamwork for my son’s class of 8th Graders. (For the record, this day was rescheduled from just a month ago when 35 degrees, snow flurries and blowing winds were our option for Kansas weather that day.)

TimberRidge Adventure Center offers a variety of exercises for all age groups. As parents chaperoning, we were encouraged not to coach the kids as they were to use each other as resources to complete their challenges. TimberRidge asked parent chaperones in advance to keep in mind these quotes:

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” – Frederick Douglas

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” – William Ellery Channing

The students were in smaller groups throughout the day and were challenged first with a goal of getting all of them standing together on a very small plank. The teamwork activities continued with a challenge to use boards and preset concrete blocks to build a bridge and get everyone across to the other side without falling off. There were activities to help each willing participant to complete a course through hanging ropes, hanging tires and much more. Balance on an imaginary boat that seesawed back and forth was key to getting everyone on board without “sinking.” Some of the challenges had penalties if rules were neglected or forgotten which meant all on the team had to pay close attention and be engaged throughout for the good of the team.

Takeaways the students acknowledged after each activity centered around the importance of communication, the importance of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, the importance of everyone doing their part, and the importance of listening to others as well as speaking. Sound familiar? Whether a propane company, a volunteer organization, or any type of group where people must work together for a common purpose, the challenges of teamwork always have similar guiding principles.

For students, it is always good to have adults who give them the right amount of leeway as they become more independent. As a college student, I was in a Fraternity with an advisor who sat in the back of meetings and rarely spoke unless he felt it was absolutely necessary. Many speculated that the crinkling of the newspaper he was reading usually came in response to him hearing something he didn’t like. When he did speak up, it got everyone’s attention. Conflicts usually centered around members not doing their part for the organization but still expecting all the benefits. “The fraternity is just like a little red wagon,” he said. “Some are pulling and some are riding in the wagon. When you find yourselves with too few pulling and too many in the wagon, an interesting thing happens. The wagon stops moving. It is up to all in the wagon to decide what they might be able to do to get the wagon moving again.”

At Propane Resources, where I worked 20 years, there was a motto: “The more trust I earn, the more autonomy I gain.” I think this is a good motto for any company or organization. Too often, we focus on the assets such as trucks, tanks, software, hardware and many other things that are important, but neglect the most important assets of all – the people who make everything happen. With all of the activities that go with planning for summer maintenance and plotting a successful 2022-23 season, pay attention to fine-tuning the teamwork aspects of your organization!

A course I have utilized called “Leading Passionate Teams” by Dr. James Lucas, identifies seven core reasons teams fail:

1. Missing Answers – Poor or undeveloped answers to the really big questions, along with little diversity of thought.

2. Overly Broad Focus – Spending too much time on the wrong things (e.g., activity more than value, methods more than results, and allowing the team to become distracted.

3. Silo Structure – Dysfunctional, stovepiped, misaligned, negative organizational or team design.

4. Low Participation – Lack of powersharing, and related defective initiative, accountability, and ownership.

5. Non-leading Leaders – Poorly selected, placed, or developed leadership, or leadership that doesn’t act wisely or courageously.

6. Reactionary Mindset – Reacting to changes imposed by the market or competitors or corporate hierarchy, rather than proactively initiating and exploiting change and opportunity.

7. Reality Distortion – A refusal to find, face, define, align with, and (where possible) change reality.

The seven keys to effective teams challenge the seven core reasons they fail!! (and spell the word “VICTORS”)

Vision vs. Mission Answers
Intelligence vs. Overly Broad Focus
Cohesion vs. Silo Structure
Tools vs. Low Participation
Openness vs. Non-leading Leaders
Results vs. Reactionary Mindset
Sustainability vs. Reality Distortion

Overcoming these challenges is key to a successful organization with much potential. The 8th Graders graduate to High School on Friday, May 13, putting them one step closer to the “real world.”

In thinking about life lessons, I often think of Robert Fulghum, who became well known after writing a simple essay in 1987 titled, “All I really ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” My Mom saw the essay and the attention it was getting and an article about Fulghum said he was asked to speak at a National Fraternity Annual Meeting in Arkansas. She asked if that was the meeting I was going to and it turned out it was. We were some of the first to hear Fulghum speak to a small group before he went on to being a best selling author with many books all tied to his originally essay, “All I really ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.”

The essay states:

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the plastic cup.
The roots go down and the plant goes up and
nobody really knows how or why, but we are
all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters, and white mice and even
the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die.
So do we.
And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and
the first word you learned, the biggest word of all:
LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology
and politics and sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all –
the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock
every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for
a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and
other nations to always put things back where we found
them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still
true, no matter how old you are: when you go out into
the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.