The summer Olympics are almost upon us. I am beginning to notice the advertisements and the stories. This year there is a heightened sense of spectacle – doping charges, the Zika virus, Brazil’s economy. I don’t like to admit this because I feel un-American, but I don’t watch the Olympics. Not the summer Olympics, not the winter Olympics, not even gymnastics or figure skating. It’s not just sports, but also the competitive nature of the Olympics that doesn’t fit my nature.
But an event at our shared space has me changing my mind about the Olympics. For the past year I have been working with the tenants in our nonprofit center – the Community Partners Center for Health and Human Services (the Center) – on creating a collaborative environment designed to support partnerships among our organizations. We have a vision of providing one-stop, comprehensive services to families in the community. Over the course of our work together I have learned so much about what it takes to create the type of place where everyone feels comfortable and folks know each other. I am trusting that by creating the right environment individuals will make deeper connections. You can’t work well with someone unless you have strong and trusting relationships with them. Relationship before task is my mantra.
As we began to look for more intentional ways to build relationships, we created a working group made up of tenant employees. This group wanted to create the feeling of a neighborhood: the building as a neighborhood, the tenant offices as homes and the tenants as neighbors. Although the building opened in 2008 there had not been a significant effort around planning joint activities or at least not a structure to sustain ongoing activities. One of the first activities in our “neighborhood” was bi-monthly neighborhood breakfasts. In essence, each “neighbor” had invited all of their other “neighbors” to their “home” for breakfast. It was an opportunity to show some hospitality, open their office to everyone and meet each other in their own spaces. I know in my own neighborhood where I live I love to get invited to my neighbors’ houses and see what they look like inside! The breakfasts were well received and began to generate some curiosity and interest. The Women’s Center of Montgomery County focuses on eliminating domestic violence and other forms of abuse. At their breakfast, we took a survey about domestic violence and I learned that domestic abuse organizations often have the word “Woman” in their name yet they work with all abuse victims. I learned why one of the employees became involved in this work and we talked about how our changing societal views around gender are impacting the domestic violence organizations. Two of our other neighbors, NHS of Montgomery County and Hedwig House, both provide a range of behavioral health services for children and young adults. Through visits to these “houses” I learned more about their collaborative efforts working with teens and shared some of my stories about mental illness in my own family.
When it was the YMCA’s turn to invite us to their “house” they decided to switch it up a bit and host an afternoon event – A Tenant Olympics. Ugh was my initial reaction. I hate sports and competition. I am more comfortable with collaboration and consensus. However, I was learning the importance of letting people decide how they want to engage and the YMCA staff had a lot of energy around developing the event. It looked like I was going to be pushed out of my comfort zone but knowing the importance of team building, comradery and having some fun when developing relationships, I embraced the event with vigor. See? Here I am wearing a silly hat.
The YMCA staff did an amazing job organizing the event. They had games and score cards, medals and trophies. While we had hoped for higher attendance, the majority of our neighbors were represented. Kudos to the YMCA for taking a risk and trying something new. We increased the skills required for collaboration: teamwork, stepping out of your comfort zone and celebrating small wins.
Once I let loose, I put my best foot forward. I embraced the competition and the spirit of the Olympic event. Although my team (the Sparkers) didn’t win and I didn’t get a trophy or a medal, that was not what the Tenant Olympics was about. We had fun together and got to know each other a little better. Although I still might not aspire to get the trophy next year, when there are opportunities to work more closely together, I know who I want on my team.