I’ve been on vacation the past week, in Cozumel, Mexico. One day, we went on an excursion called Xenotes. A cenote (say-NO-tay) is a sinkhole filled with fresh water. (The “X” is to give it a more Mayan-sounding trademarkable name.) We had a lot of fun swimming, kayaking, and zip-lining. A bilingual tour guide led our group, which consisted of people from across the US and South America, of various ages and physical abilities.
Our tour guide was a lot of fun. He made jokes, told us about the cenotes, and led us in the activities. But he also encouraged us. When someone was scared to do something, he was supportive. He told us that it was okay, and we could do it. But we also felt like it was OK to fail, if we really couldn’t. It really felt like his encouragement was literally creating courage.
What was really neat was that despite the language barrier, everyone else was also supportive and encouraging. Everyone cheered with encouragement before someone would attempt something difficult. And we’d cheer especially loud once someone accomplished something that was difficult for their abilities.
It was an awesome feeling to feel so supported. It made me feel like I was in a safe place, where I could try new things that were a little past my comfort zone. I was able to do the zip-line upside-down. I jumped off a 15-foot cliff into the water. I even jumped off the cliff a second time, even though I was a little scared.
Back at the resort, we played some volleyball in the pool. It was a similar situation, with players of varying ages and abilities. Again, we tried to help the weaker players feel comfortable so they could improve without feeling judged or self-conscious. It helped everyone have a good time. It made everything more fun to be in such a supportive environment, whether I was in a position as one of the more skilled (volleyball), or one of the less skilled (jumping or zip-lining into the water). We were all able to accomplish more, with less effort.
These experiences provide a good lesson that can be applied in a lot of places. Such a supportive environment would help any relationship, and any team. I’ve been on a couple really good software development teams, but I don’t think any of them have been as supportive as these two groups of strangers.
I’ve decided that this should be one of my goals as a team leader. I want to create an encouraging environment for the whole team. I want to make sure that everyone is comfortable enough that they feel like they can try things that are difficult, even if they might fail (as long as nobody gets hurt).
If a group of strangers can do this, so can your team. So can you and your significant others. We need to work every day to make sure that we’re supporting each other. It’s the best way to get everyone to achieve more.