|The Dreaded Basement|
Practice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How well practice is supported within any group or organization—be it a basketball team, a school, or a multinational corporation—can determine whether people embrace it and eagerly take on new challenges or whether they resent practice and fail to engage in it. Great practice, then, is not merely a triumph of design and engineering, but a triumph of culture. ~Doug Lemov
Throughout my life, I've been a part of many different teams. Some great, some merely good, and others just darn ugly. (That last one involved some fellow pointe dancers and expanding spandex polka dots...) Although I've always tried to embody a leader regardless of my title, my role as a team leader has become formalized within the organizations where I work over the past three years.
It has been one of my primary goals to model, expect, and reward a culture of practice. At times, this has been difficult for me, but the rewards always exceeded my expectations.
Consider the time when I had to bail rising water out of the basement in my office. (Oh, the joys of being a tech director.) In short, things weren't going very smoothly. Two of my team members, seeing me covered in mud, helped me brainstorm a better solution. We tried their solution. It didn't work. We tried something else. It still didn't work. After 3 hours of general mayhem, we finally stumbled upon success. As we wolfed down some Pizza Hut in the parking lot following the experience, I said, "Hey, maybe we should practice that tomorrow. Then we'll be able to react really quickly next time." Although they were skeptical at first, they complied and we practiced the next day. Sure enough, when the next large rainstorm resulted in a flood, we were able to solve the problem in 15 minutes. Once my teammates saw the direct value of practice, they were hooked. Soon we were having weekly practice sessions for problems that arose routinely in our work.
Just last week I had the opportunity to practice with three teammates on my current project. (We are working together to coach teachers.) Although I have a formalized leadership role, everyone on our team is encouraged to observe each other and provide feedback. This really helps to flatten the organization as well as increase everyone's access to models and feedback. During a debrief session with one member, I practiced several exchanges to deescalate resistance. Not only did I learn about my teammate in the process, but I gained some critical skills myself!
A leader who values practice has to be willing to admit weakness and failure. However, that's not enough. A leader who values practice has to model strategic improvement by trying again...and again... and again. A culture of practice is essentially a culture of messy, dynamic learning.