Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned about Team Building I Learned from a Teen Theater Production

The Teen was recently involved in an all student led local theater UIL production. What this means is that at her high school 5 students put together UIL type One Act plays and competed against their peers. The production was entirely student led from start to finish, although adults were the judges. The students had to submit a vision board to have their play selected for the competition. They then cast, blocked, and directed the entire play, including doing their stage sets, music and lighting, and more. It was an amazing event to witness, especially when you consider that this was being done entirely by 15, 16, 17 and 18 year-olds.

My daughter was cast as Catherine, the lead in a play called Proof. Proof is about a young woman struggling with grief, depression and a family history of mental illness. It is also about the ways we view women in STEM fields. You see, Catherine’s father was a mathematical genius and after his death a world changing mathematical proof is found. Everyone assumes her father did the proof, but Catherine is the author, except no one believes she is capable of the work. It’s a moving and thoughtful play with a small cast, only 4 people ever take the stage.

To make this play happen, these teens rehearsed almost every day for about 6 weeks. And along the way the student director did a lot of intentional activities to help build a tight, cohesive team. These kids did PowerPoint presentations breaking down their characters. They explored costuming together. They rehearsed and then they rehearsed some more. They worked hard to make sure they understood the play itself, the characters, and every moment that was happening on the stage.

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But their team building went beyond just analyzing the play and included things to build up, encourage and uplift one another as people and actors. At the beginning of the play production, each team member – and the team involved tech crew as well as the actors – wrapped a piece of string around each other’s ankles while giving them a compliment. This is called a compliment web. The teens all wore these strings around their ankles for the entire 6 weeks that they were working on the project. The strings served as a reminder that they were part of something meaningful and that the people they were working with believed in them. The Teen now has the string in a memory box as it means a lot to her.

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They also did things like compliment walks, where before rehearsals they would each compliment members of their teams. They did fun runs, where they would practice the play but in a fun way. Like everyone had to do the their dialogue with a twangy accent or with a funny walk. They’re still practicing their lines and blocking, but it’s fun and breaks up the monotony of a straight run through.

The morning of the actual competition that cast and crew met together at a local restaurant for breakfast. They didn’t go over last minute notes or rehearse their lines, they just talked to one another as human beings who were bonded over this shared project that meant a lot to them.

As a mom and a librarian who has been both an employee and a manager, I was really impressed to see how these teens seem to understand the necessity for and importance of team building. I’ve working in libraries who failed miserably at this concept and could have learned a lot from these teens. And it made a difference, I feel like these kids will have this shared, positive experience for a lifetime. It’s also interesting to note that all 4 of the cast members got awards for their performance, including The Teen who won best actress, and the play as a whole took the first place prize for this event. I can’t help but think that the team building that went on behind the scenes is just as important to their success as the rehearsals that went into this production.

And I’m not here to suggest that these are the only ways to do team building. For one, in a paid employee environment, it is wrong and in many states illegal to ask staff to do any unpaid work for their job. So team building in a professional work environment should be done on the clock, which doesn’t mean it has to be in the building or sterile. But as we go into 2020, I think we should all be thinking more about how to build our teams, how to improve morale, and how to make our work places a place where our staff feel cared for, motivated, and successful.

Here’s what I learned about Team Building from these teens:

  1. It is intentional
  2. It balances constructive feedback with compliments and affirmations
  3. It allows for fun and positive experiences
  4. It encourages a deeper understanding of not just the how but the why; the meaning and significance of a project is explored
  5. It promotes positive feelings among the team for each other and the project they are working on

Sometimes, adults can learn a lot from teens.