The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Teams

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 8:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
By Kristen Wall


The practice of mindfulness is getting its day in the sun, and it seems like there is a new headline every day promoting its uses.  The articles often describe the benefits an individual can experience – less anxiety, better sleep, sharper focus, and improved memory, to name a few.  However, researchers are now investigating the power of mindfulness for teams.  Will individual mindfulness practices result in better team performance?


One of the more famous examples of mindfulness and teamwork comes from the Phil Jackson-Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls.  Jackson introduced mindfulness to help reduce tension and unite the team. The concept has since spread to corporations, such as Google and Nike, as leaders use mindfulness to improve productivity and reduce interpersonal conflict.


Yu and Zellmer-Bruhm (2018) defined team mindfulness as situations where members committed to keeping their attention focused on the present and by “experiential, nonjudgmental processing of team experiences”.  In other words, “team mindfulness emerges as team members develop similar perceptions about their interactions”, namely, that they stayed focused on the present during interactions and they engaged in “nonjudgmental processing of team experiences” (p. 325).  Yu and Zellmer-Bruhm determined these commitments created an environment where team members were less reactive, could process experiences in nonjudgmental ways, and allowed members to take things less personally.  In other words, the team members were less likely to get their feelings hurt and more likely to see nuance in what other team members were saying.  Other benefits to teams include an assumption of positive intent during conflict, better attention on the task in spite of the conflict, and team members that are less likely to get defensive. 

If you are interested in the benefits of mindfulness for your team, how do you get started? 

  • First, start practicing it yourself.  There are many resources to help you learn basic techniques.  Goleman and Lippincott (2017) describe a senior leader who started using mindfulness techniques to manage his impulsivity and his employees stopped turning around to walk the other way when they saw him coming down the hall!  This is an extreme example, but experience has taught us that people will be more interested in a new initiative if they see the benefits someone else is experiencing.  
  • Second, don’t make it mandatory.  Allow for opportunities throughout the week for your team to take a few minutes to engage in mindfulness if they choose to. 
  • Last, allow your team the opportunity to talk about their experiences with mindfulness, good and bad, without judgement.  Don’t overwhelm them with techniques to try. Give team members space and time to adopt the practice, or not.  I know from my personal experience that it took a couple of attempts before I started to see the benefits.  Remember that mindfulness will look different for everyone—for instance, yoga and tai chi are mindfulness activities that may be difficult to practice at work, so you may not know that your team members are already doing it. 

As our discussions at work increasingly focus on improving mental health, increasing productivity, and emotional intelligence, mindfulness has become one of the tools we can use to achieve our goals.  If you want to learn more about using mindfulness with your team, Coursera offers a module called “Building High Performance Teams:  Mindfulness Strategies”

References:

Goleman, D. & Lippincott, M. (2017, September 8) Without emotional intelligence, mindfulness doesn’t work. Retrieved from www.hbr.org

Yu, L. & Zellmer-Bruin, M. (2018). Introducing team mindfulness and considering its safeguard role against conflict transformation and social undermining.  Academy of Management Journal, 61(1), 324-347.


Kristen Jensen Wall is a Learning and Development Professional with almost 20 years of experience in Higher Education.

 

 

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