How to Improve your Teamwork and have Better Meetings with Gratitude

What are you grateful for? Can you name three things you are grateful for right now?

Last quarter, we started every team meeting (every full-time MBA experience is punctuated by many, many team meetings) by going around the table and naming three things that we were grateful for that day. The most common answer was that we were grateful for free food at a lunch event, but you’d also get a lot of insight into your teammates’ lives.

We’d hear about how our Mongolian teammate was grateful for being able to Skype to his wife and daughter. They’ve been away from each other for half a year now. We’d learn about the stress that we were each having in the internship search and see the gratitude in each incremental success. We’d come to understand that the reason that one team member was struggling in class was because they were secretly preparing for 6 internship interviews a week. We’d hear about the minutia of day to day life, and how the little things made each other grateful.

Through the lens of gratitude, we were able to put a positive spin on our thoughts and problems during the dark Seattle winter. We got to know each other on a deeper level, beyond the occasional ‘how are you’ or ‘how is the internship search going’ in between classes. But most importantly, it was insight into the ‘why’ of each team member: you find out what’s important to them, and what motivates them.

By being vulnerable to each other and learning about each other’s motivations, we started to trust each other. We were more efficient in our team meetings and in our team projects because we were able to delegate effectively. When one person was having a rough week or preparing for a major interview, the rest of the team would step up and shoulder the burden on team projects. While we would spend at least 15 minutes on gratitude at the beginning of every meeting, our meetings typically ended early. We trusted each other’s opinions while still having really honest debates on the right course of action.

Dominic Orr, CEO of Aruba Networks called this having “Brutal Intellectual Honesty,” (see a short 3-minute video on “Working With and Making Decisions with Great People”) where you have intelligent (and possibly heated) debate among great peers, but you also have to have thick skin. This simple exercise in gratitude developed comfort and trust in each other, which is a requirement for becoming more brutally intellectually honest with each other. This resulted in faster/better decisions, but ultimately did not result in resentment because we spent the time in the beginning of each meeting to ground ourselves, and to think positively about our day and learn about each other.

While the most common answer was that we were grateful for free food, the second most common answer was that we were grateful for each other and for having a supportive team. We ended the quarter with great grades (personally, a significant improvement over the first quarter), a happy consulting project client, and lifelong friends. This is the Foster that I am proud to be a part of, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

Today, the three things I’m grateful for are: getting to spend the summer as a MBA intern at Nike, having the opportunity to climb with some amazing classmates yesterday at the local crag, and my wife (for making tons of steak tacos this weekend).

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