Mindfulness for Teams

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 newsletter of Rowledge Associates

What is Team Mindfulness?

Initially made famous in the sports arena by legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson, team mindfulness is about putting egos aside and working for the greater good, understanding that you are an integral part of the whole and can therefore benefit in ways that you simply couldn’t achieve alone.

Based primarily on Zen philosophy, team mindfulness is about moving away from the traditional model of tight control and alpha management, instead moving into a world where the goal is to bring everyone into harmony and oneness, learning to trust and work in synch with those around you. It’s about developing self-awareness and self-compassion that spills over into compassion and awareness for others, thereby raising the collective awareness of the group as a whole.

Jackson famously used a mindfulness teacher to lead “One Team, One Breath” exercises in training and pre-game sessions. Bringing their attention to their breathing, the team gradually learned to breathe in synch, to actually sense that they were working as one instead of just thinking about it intellectually.

This felt experience of mindfulness for teams is a crucial part of the practice. Mindfulness is a way of being, not just a form of meditation that you do for a few minutes a day and then leave behind on the cushion. At the foundation lies the development of focus and awareness, the ability to still the incessant, usually ego-centred chatter of the mind and open up to really listening and responding to what you can sense in the people and the world around you in the present moment.

What’s The Difference Between Team and Individual Mindfulness?

Team mindfulness is distinct from individual mindfulness in that it applies to the interaction between team members, as well as the mindful awareness of each person. It is defined as a shared attitude among team members to focus on the present moment, and to process team experiences with an open-minded, non-judgmental attitude.

Can Mindfulness Reduce Conflict in Teams?

Challenges and differences in opinion are inevitable when working in a team, but research from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business and the Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota suggests that some of these conflicts can be reduced, or even avoided, through team mindfulness. Results from studies reported in the Academy of Management Journal (2017/18) and the Harvard Business Review (2019) indicate that team mindfulness:

  • Improves productivity and team functioning
  • Increases the ability to focus on the task in hand
  • Helps teams to approach problems with an open mind
  • Makes constructive disagreement more effective 
  • Reduces team relationship conflict by making conflict less personal
  • Particularly reduces individual social undermining that may occur as a result of team relationship conflict
  • Allows better control of when and how objective critical analysis and crucial judgements take place

How Can a Team Become Mindful?

There is no formal prescription as to how to achieve team mindfulness, and indeed how the concept is applied and delivered will necessarily vary according to the type of organisation, so bespoke training is currently the recommended option for businesses. However, successful team mindfulness training should include:

  • Focus on the present moment
  • Respectful communication
  • Non-judgemental processing
  • Openness to collecting and understanding information before assessing it
  • Reducing emotional, reflexive or habitual responses
  • Avoiding miscommunication and misinterpretation

It is important to note that not every team member needs to dedicate themselves fully to mindfulness training, because employees with a high level of mindfulness influence the behaviours of their colleagues. 

Mindfulness for Team Leaders

Team mindfulness is particularly effective when the team leader or the chairperson of a particular meeting models a more mindful approach, for example by stepping in when a discussion is being shut down before potentially invaluable ideas have been properly heard and considered, or shifting the focus of discussions if they are moving from a constructive task conflict to a more destructive relationship conflict.

Therefore a combination of full team workshops and more regular 1:1 or small group mindfulness sessions for those with a deeper interest offer a potentially successful model for organisations to consider.

Contact for Team Mindfulness

For more information about mindfulness and team based training opportunities, please contact Mindfulness teacher, speaker and facilitator Katie Sheen (PGCE, MA Education). Katie practices in the Plum Village tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, but her mindfulness training is suitable for those of all faiths or none.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 newsletter of Rowledge Associates

Rowledge Associates was founded by Adam Rowledge following a successful career in the hospitality industry, during which he established a reputation for achieving operational excellence and commercial success by taking an employee centric approach to business.

Named Independent Hotelier of the Year by the Independent Hotel Show Awards in 2018, Adam has also been awarded British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame Young Manager of the Year in 2017 and an Acorn Award in 2012. These awards were recognition of his leadership which led to further prestigious awards for his team and individual colleagues.

Katie delivered regular mindfulness workshops for Adam’s team at Georgian House Hotel, London from 2018-19, and they continue to work together on corporate and conference projects.

Mindfulness for Teams by Katie Sheen Workshop

Do sign up on Adam’s website for regular inspiration and insights on topics around inspirational leadership, employee experience, talent management and team performance. He helps organisations to build competitive advantage by putting their people first, offering coaching, mentoring, workshops, online live sessions and keynote speaking.