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What Marathon Training Has Taught Me About Team Dynamics

running shoes

COVID has left me a little stir crazy, and one way I decided to cope with that was by setting a big goal: running a marathon at the end of March. It’s mostly going well, but I’ve found that I’m paying more attention to my body and its aches and pains than ever before.

One of the most powerful concepts I keep coming back to again and again is that if a muscle aches, that particular muscle is often not the problem. How strange is that?!

For example, if my lower back aches, what I feel like doing is stretching my lower back muscles. They feel tight and strained, but I know that stretching will only make them worse. More likely it’s my mid-back muscles that need the most attention, as they are actually the muscles that are exhausted and no longer able to carry their load to prevent the lower back from getting pulled on.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, I’ve been thinking lately how our physical aches and pains can actually offer us an apt metaphor for team dynamics. Who on your team is stressed? Where do we see pain? And what is the connective tissue that’s one step removed?

Often it’s this figurative connective tissue where the opportunity lies. We might have a small team that is overworked and struggling, but maybe the answer lies in how other teams work with that team, not in the team itself.

Maybe someone is struggling professionally, but that’s actually a result of their employer not providing a key benefit or support for their personal lives (like the Income Advance Program) than a lack of clarity in job responsibilities.

Maybe we see parents grappling with a lack of childcare, or single people struggling with isolation during a stay-at-home order, or caregivers for an elderly parent trying to navigate the eldercare system. They are all part of a workforce that’s broadly wrestling with our country’s lack of support infrastructure.

We like to try and break things down into discrete and separate parts in the typical business paradigm, based on the Industrial Revolution’s model for how work can get done most “efficiently.” But instead of simply assuming the problem is confined to the thing that hurts, how can we look around the pain point and identify areas of opportunity for alleviating the strain?

This approach is likely to lead to less stressed and more productive team members, which we all know is vital to a company’s overall health.

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