Dodge Ball

Walking in to pick up my daughter from Robotics practice last Thursday evening, I noticed many of the students missing from the open area.  Hearing the cheering and laughing coming from the shop even before I entered the door, I could feel my whole body responding to the sounds. I stepped into the cold work space where the work of building the robot happens and what I saw was 40 - 50students and mentors playing all out dodge ball. The energy in the room was contagious. Smiling, laughing, full body dodging and hurling of the ball, cheering, chanting and egging each other on. It was the kind of fun, play and connection that they had been longing for, it was one of the agreements that had been implemented from our circle the night before.

Catching the eyes of many of the students and coaches who attended the circles, I could feel them letting me know…this was beginning to feel like a team again.

Four days after our first robotics team circle, granola bars and R2D2 in hand, thirteen students, coaches and mentors gathered for a second circle. Sitting around a tall table on stools late in the evening, this was the one hour when the team ‘leads’ met each week. Although this circle included team members and coaches who didn't attend the first circle, the feeling was different already. There seemed to be more ease and relaxation and they seemed to fit right in.

We began with each of the students sharing their sense of how the team had changed after our first circle. They reflected: "things seem calmer, there aren't as many disagreements, people are working together and the atmosphere isn't as negative.” I could feel my shoulders relax to hear these words.

One of the main themes that came from the first meeting was the desire to improve how decisions were made. This led me to ask, "What do you think is missing in the way decisions are made?” I noticed the students more readily spoke into the circle, reaching for R2D2 instead of waiting for him to come around. The honesty and vulnerability was palpable, even with the coach present. ”Communication is difficult; ideas aren't respected; listening to each other is hard; there is no follow through on decisions.”

R2D2 seemed to come alive as he was quickly tossed across the circle, students eager to answer: "What ideas do you have for changing the way decisions are made?" The students’ ideas were creative and honest. They looked around as they offered their solutions to see how they would be received by their teammates and coaches. Each wanted to contribute to this becoming a “team again.”

Writing down each of the ideas and reflecting to make sure I was clear, a small list of 7 action items began to emerge. Ideas like:

  • Flexibility in working groups
  • Follow up on decisions that are made
  • Having fun and breaking up the long practices with food and games
  • ‘Leads’ sharing with the rest of the team the outcomes of these circles

In the closing round one student reflected the power of waiting her turn to talk. She mentioned she often jumps in to answer and noticed that when she had to wait, other people in the circle had spoken to what she wanted to say. It gave her a chance to see that this was a different way for her to support her teammates to have a voice and to matter. This was another way to 'lead' together.

Seeing the team engaged in the full on dodge ball game less than 24 hours after our circle it was clear there were changes in the air. Relationships and a different kind of cooperation had taken priority over deadlines, robot parts and coding.