A significant part of my former job was creating a team building packet for the beginning of each academic year. I’d be on the hunt all year for material or a new angle or a book that could provide the frame work for the next years material. Even after I’d resigned, I gathered material and have a running mental file of potential ideas.

From J. Wu. Fostering team in the kitchen

From J. Wu. Fostering team in the kitchen

This summer I was reading out loud to two of my nieces From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (by E. L. Konisgsburg). It’s the story of two elementary school siblings who run away from home to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and as a Newberry Medal award winner is fantastic. Having been stuck in a few too many airports for a long time, I’ll wander around looking for a fountain to bathe in if I become desperate. That, my friends, if fiction coming to life! Thank you Ms. Konisgsburg for the idea.

Old habits die hard and this book has a simple, but profound distinction of what it means to be a team. And when I read it, I wanted to share it.

If anyone is (re)starting a team this academic year, be it a work team, a sports team, a committee, I’d have them read the following excerpt from this YA book and discuss it:

Claudia had always known that she was meant for such fine things. Jamie, on the other hand, thought that running away from home to sleep in just another bed was really no challenge at all. He, James, would rather sleep on the bathroom floor, after all. Claudia then pulled him around to the foot of the bed and told him to read what the card said.

Jamie read, “Please do not step on the platform.”

Claudia knew that he was being difficult on purpose; therefore, she read for him, ‘State bed –scene of the alleged murder of Amy Robsart, first wife of Lord Robert Dudley, later Earl of …’

Jamie couldn’t control his smile. He said, ‘You know, Claude, for a sister and a fussbudget, you’re not too bad.’

Claudia replied, ‘You know, Jamie, for a brother and a cheapskate, you’re not too bad.’

Something happened at precisely that moment. Both Claudia and Jamie tried to explain to me [Mrs. Frankweiler] about it, but they couldn’t quite. I know what happened, though I never told them. Having words and explanations for everything is too modern. I especially wouldn’t tell Claudia. She has too many explanations already.

What happened was: they became a team, a family of two. There has been times before they ran away when they had acted like a team, but those were very different from feeling like a team. Becoming a team didn’t mean the end of their arguments. But it did mean that the arguments became a part of the adventure, became discussions not threats. To an outsider the arguments would appear to be the same because feeling like part of a team is something that happens invisibly. You might call it caring. You could even call it love. And it is very rarely, indeed, that it happens to two people at the same time –especially a brother and a sister who had always spent more time with activities than they had with each other.

I love running across a gem in unexpected places. Oh the truth this passage contains!

Questions for discussion (yup, the teacher geek in me is coming out):

  1. How can you act like a team but miss the mark?
  2. I love that being a team doesn’t mean the end of arguments or disagreements but they are no longer threatening in the same way. Can you think of an example where you disagreed and it was threatening? And another time when it wasn’t? What were the differences?
  3. Do you agree that there needs to be caring or love for a team to be a team?

Over to you in the comment section. Would you choose one of these questions and answer it? OR, share something you have read or seen recently that might be considered an unexpected place for a great reminder/lesson? 

P.S. Go Broncos! That is one team I hope cares for each other!!

Leave A Comment

  1. Amy September 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Mixed Up Files is one of my all-time faves! I agree, there is a lot to learn from Claudia and Jamie as they learn to adapt to each other in spite of their differences. Thanks for the great reminder.

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      :) … see, I can read fiction. Thanks for being the first one to comment!

  2. Catie September 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    I read the Mixed Up Files for the first time last summer. Amid all the youth books sporting racy covers, vampires, and generally self-centered themes, something promoting intelligent adventure, sibling support and creativity stood out. You are right about teamwork. Regarding question #3, I think caring and love makes it easier to achieve teamwork but all that is required is respect and a shared purpose or goal.

  3. Jesse September 6, 2013 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    I think that invisible thing that binds a team together IS love. I’m reminded of John writing that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). It’s fear that keeps people from “leaning in” to each other instead of “leaning out.” When you’re leaning in and you hit rough spots, you fall towards each other and support each other. When you’re leaning out, out of fear that the other person might not be there for you, when bumps come you fall away from each other, and your fear is confirmed that the others on the team were not there for you in the first place. Love leads to leaning in, willing to be vulnerable, risking your self for another person(s); and on a team it leads to synergy, meaning the total effect is more than the sum of its parts. I’m sure all team organizers are quite familiar with the word. Fear leads to leaning out, shielding and protecting oneself, and no-risk-taking. Just now I was trying to think of an antonym for synergy, and looked it up on An interesting list of synonyms and antonyms came up:

    Syn – teamwork, harmony, union, unity, working together, alliance, combined effort
    Ant – discord, separation, divorce

    It should come as no surprise that we see some “family’ related words. I think it’s poignant that your little vignette is a story of a brother and a sister (family) who did not have synergy, and then discovered it. I remember from the year you did my training, you talked about team being like a family. Some people rolled their eyes. (They’re the ones who had fear) Other people nodded, because they understood. (They knew what it meant to love)

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Oh Jesse, when you reference something I said, for some ridiculous reason, it warms me. If nothing else, it shows that at least one person was listening.

      And i stand by the analogy (know that ‘family’ can mean many different things to folks) — I was talking with a gal the other day who is having a rough go of missing her team from last year as they have had an “arranged divorce” as a team with each going their own ways for legitimate reasons, but missing each other fiercely.

  4. Kristi September 6, 2013 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    I most definitely agree there has to be caring or love for a team to be a team more than in name only. Love oils the gears so that a team can become a well running machine that hums along as it works towards a common goal. Without love the gears grind against one another, efficiency is reduced, and the machine wears out as each individual part/member damages the other. Another way to put it: Jia you!

    • Shelly September 7, 2013 at 8:55 am - Reply

      Kristi, you have a way with metaphors! The grinding gears is a clear picture of how care/love is needed.

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:56 pm - Reply

      Yes! Jia you!

  5. Morielle September 7, 2013 at 12:34 am - Reply

    I’m going to try to take a stab at the last one. I think that in theory a team could work smoothly without any caring or love–in the kind of theory where the team members manage to operate completely separate from their emotions. But since I don’t know any teams of this kind, I don’t think real live teams with human beings on them can operate well without love.

    Also, as you said in number 2, being a good team often means not being afraid to argue and dig deep into the team members’ diversity (instead of glossing it over). I think the essential ingredient for that kind of dynamic is trust. I think that idea popped into my mind because I just heard a sermon where the pastor said, “Every sin you commit can be traced back to a mistrust of God.” Trust is essential to teamwork. If you had to check over everything your teammates did, you might as well as do it all yourself. And I think trust is too deep a thing to exist without affection attached to it.

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:52 pm - Reply

      Love the link between sin and mistrust — well, love may not be the right word. But I can see it and I like the phrasing of it.

  6. Greg September 7, 2013 at 1:43 am - Reply

    Planning on sharing part of this post at our next team building meeting… Thanks!

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      And to you for both sharing and letting me know!

  7. Abby Kleier September 7, 2013 at 11:21 am - Reply

    I think one thing that allows you to become a team is trust; and for me trust means knowing that the other person is not going to leave when conflict arises. I think it takes two or more people saying that the conflicts are part of the adventure–Not possible reasons to quit. That creates a safe place for long-term and established affectionate cooperation. Love the Narrator’s commentary at the end of the excerpt :-)

    • Kristi September 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm - Reply

      Yes, I was on a team where conflict was the reason that one person “quit” the team, at least mentally. At that point trust was gone along with any semblance of cooperation.

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      You and Patrick Lencioni! (Me too) — number one thing needed for functional teams is trust. :)

  8. Liesl September 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    I miss being on your team! :)

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      Amy September 8, 2013 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Oh Liesl, you have no idea :)

  9. Karin Lynn Bates September 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    I adore the book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and to see you quote it in this context is oh-so-cool! I really liked this statement: “the arguments became a part of the adventure, became discussions not threats.” I thought to myself, “Yes, what a great definition of feeling like a team.”

    I thought of a workplace context how people’s egos often get in the way of team. Their agendas and insecurities about them control the team dynamics, and how if a person feels at peace with him or herself, it makes for a better team because things like arguments or disagreements no longer become huge thorns in the process of getting things accomplished.

    I don’t know that love or caring *always* needs to be involved, frankly, but I do think consideration and decency and respect does, especially respect for diverse viewpoints. I’m not going to love everyone who is on a team with me. But to have the fundamental respect for one another that everyone has a valid viewpoint goes a long way in helping the dynamic work.

    Thanks, Amy. Neat post. :-)

  10. Kristi September 25, 2013 at 5:20 am - Reply

    I’ve been catching up on NCIS lately. It just crossed my mind that one reason I like this show is because of how they work together as a team.

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      Amy September 25, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

      Kristi … that’s also what I’ve loved about NCIS! And I was sure to record last night’s episode because it is “goodbye to Ziva!” I wonder how that will affect the team (and therefore the show). Love your comments!

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