3 Team-building Lessons I Learned Through Wrestling School

“Daddy, I want to join a wrestling class!”

One of the joys of being a parent is watching your child develop interests and habits.   When my son Alessio told me that he wanted to wrestle I was overjoyed.  I wasn’t even aware he liked wrestling until that moment.  After establishing that wrestling was not going to be filled with body slams, DDTs, and chair shots like on TV we agreed to continue with the process and research schools in the area.

We ended up visiting two schools to gauge fit.  It was in trying out schools that I was reminded of three simple principles that every organization should be incorporating if they seek to be an inclusive and high-performance work environment.  These observations came to me simply by noticing the stark difference between the Green (school we didn’t chose) and Blue (School we did choose) wrestling schools.

  • A Welcoming Environment. Being new in any situation is awkward and a little scary.  It’s up to leadership to ensure that team members are made to feel welcome and engage with others.  As Alessio he entered the room to the Blue School, the instructor (Let’s call him “Austin”) asked his name, introduced him to the class, and paired him with a more experienced wrestler to help him learn the procedures and drills properly.   This is in contrast to the Green school where the instructors didn’t seem to know the names of any of their students and had no strategy in their pairings.
  • Strong Mentoring. Throughout the practice Alessio was paired with experienced students who showed him how to correctly perform drills. At times Austin worked with Alessio directly to build trust and to make sure he was learning correct form (this happened a lot with any neck exercises).  The benefits of mentoring relationships in the workplace have been documented in several studies whether it deals with onboarding, increasing organizational performance and boosting sense of belonging.  Some organizations are even implementing “reverse mentoring” arrangements where employees teach and mentor each other based on strength sets.   Reverse mentoring is especially prevalent with intergenerational workforce initiatives.   As leaders we not only need to create strong mentoring systems in our organizations but we also have to be strategic about when and how to implement them.  Austin knew when the right time to pair my son up with an experiences student was versus directly teaching him versus having Alessio work with any student in the class.  Thought and intentionality can make the difference between a team member starting strong or struggling long.
  • Ever started a job and had 50 different things thrown at you almost at once?  We are all expected to hit the ground running but without teaching the proper structure on how to be successful we increase the chances of errors and miscommunications.  Austin took his students through a progression on each drill or technique.  He explained the reason behind it and when it was time for the students to try they learned the skills step by step.  This was in contrast to the Green school where students were shown a technique once and expected to do it.  The coaches would have students practice on their own as they circled the room but the problem was by the time they reached a pairing for instruction, many bad habits had already formed.  With team members we need to always be thinking about step-by-step sequencing to create a proper foundation.  We don’t want to come back to them after “showing them” and spending unnecessary time and energy on retraining.

I started this wrestling endeavor just hoping to find a good school for my son and fortunately, I got that.  What I got as bonus was a reminder that strong organizations and teams are built through creating welcoming environments that engage new members off the bat, have strong mentoring mechanisms in place, and implement a logical sequence to bring new members up to speed.

Paul Artale is a work-life and motivational speaker who speaks for organizations that want to light a fire in people on how to perform at their peak and create a healthy balance between work and home.   He is the author of the “2 Year Old’s Guide to Work-Life Balance” which will be released in April of 2018.

More information can be found at www.paulartale.com