“Groups of 4, please. I hope all of you have a wonderful time building this together!”

I remember looking at the three strangers beside me. My earliest memory of working with a team was in elementary school, an exercise to create environment-friendly posters for Environment Day. As a young adult, I recreate this memory to present to you a thought that surfaced many years later.

As 8-year-old children, we felt lost as to how to work on the project. We sat there, a table with colored paper, markers, and crayons, four unusually quiet brains at work. A voice piped in to suggest that we draw cartoons of people cleaning the park. Another voice pitched in to agree, two of them began coloring one side of the chart. A third, naturally found herself writing captions beneath their drawing. The fourth made sure they had all the supplies they needed and worked on drawing lines to divide the chart.

There were obstacles, one did not think the cartoon was smiling the right way but two liked the way she drew it. The caption was spelt wrong, but the third did not want to accept it. And, the fourth had a hard time dividing the charts because the ideas kept changing. What followed after a disagreement, was surprising. They switched roles. Some now drew, another cut paper, and one used a stencil to write.

Did they have a wonderfully creative chart filled with cartoons of people cleaning and recycling? Yes, they did. Did it turn out as they had initially imagined? I do not remember. Perhaps, the final creation had parts of themselves. In the process I allowed myself to feel connected to my team, my team that began as strangers. We learnt each other’s names, acknowledged our strengths and shortcomings. When we switched roles, we learnt the challenges that came with doing so, and we also inculcated respect for the person who tried to do this.

Paul Kalanithi, in his memoir, writes:

‘Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still, it is never complete.’

An 8-year-old child learnt how to build relationships by learning to hold space for another and accepting that it is okay to rely on our team, our teams support us, see us through. Years from then, having worked with teams in and outside workspaces, I realized that teams foster our strengths, inform us of our shortcomings, and hold space for growth. In the midst of it all, our learning stems from the relationships we build. In many ways, our teams and support systems are collective spaces for growth, a process that could look very different, for us all.

I hold onto the 8-year-old self from whom I learned gratitude, as I question:

‘How has my team allowed me to grow? What have the relationships I cultivated through my team taught me? How can I build a work culture that fosters team building?’