Guest blog by David Stevens an MBA student at Thunderbird School of Global Management (#1 International Business School 2010 Financial Times). David is the former President of the Student Government Association and a member of the Thunderbird Tignum Sustainable High Performance Club.
When our team of five travelled to Vietnam for a five-week consulting project, we knew there would be many challenges: the language barrier, different cultural customs, the pressure of completing a bang-out project in only five weeks. As a team of MBA candidates (plus one newly-minted MBA), we felt we had the tools to tackle those tasks.
The first week was rough. Four of us had mild to severe intestinal issues. Our circadian rhythms were off. None of us spoke the language, so communicating with everyone was imperfect. After about a week of this, we realized that we were missing something; there was a gap between what we were capable of and what we were actually achieving. Our project was lagging because we were so focused on the work challenges that we overlooked a key element: our own performance capacity.
We were tired, stressed out, and felt like we had lost some control. We decided that in order to perform at our peak level, and to produce the sort of work expected by our clients, our managers, and by ourselves, we needed to implement a more systematic, systemic approach to managing and encouraging our performance. We couldn’t leave our project performance to chance.
We needed to TIGNUM-ize our team.
So we drew upon our existing knowledge of the TIGNUM Pillars: Mindset, Movement, Nutrition, Movement, and Recovery. We assigned one person to each Pillar, which we called Pillar Leads, to be responsible for driving our team’s adherence to the principles. The Pillar Leads instituted the following tactics for each respective Pillar:
- Our Pillar Lead reminded us after client meetings to reframe the challenges we faced in positive ways. For example, a gap in communication became an opportunity to be creative.
- By naming our To Be goals, we kept in mind what we wanted and needed out of every client interaction, group work session, and private work time. It wasn’t just tasks or accomplishments, but also the intangible goals that were voiced.
- Our Nutrition Lead encouraged us to hydrate, which was easy because of the many fresh coconuts available! We also tried to eat colorful, vegetable- and nutrient-rich meals, especially for breakfast and for afternoon snacks when our energy was fading.
- We also had freedom to try new foods, to have splurge moments, and to enjoy our food! We didn’t subsist on only brown rice, steamed fish and veggies and water for five weeks. We ate the fried foods, the baked goods, the tropical fruit smoothies, and the great Vietnamese coffee, and loved it. So we balanced nutritional needs with fun.
- Our Movement Lead led us through a series of mind-activating movements every morning and when we started to lose steam. We also made it a point to have some walking meetings, and to stretch and take frequent breaks during long client sessions.
- We used our maroon stretch bands to have resistance-training sessions in a local park. Sometimes solo and other times looping the bands together for some variable resistance, the portable bands allowed us to bring our exercise equipment with us.
- Our Recovery Lead reminded us to take power naps and other similar mental breaks during the work day itself. Since we worked out of our hotel frequently, it was important and convenient to close our laptops and stretch out on our beds for rest time.
- No-Work Zones kept popping up as we went along in our assignment, including most meals, which were off-limits to business discussions. We also had time on the evenings to just rest, and to sleep, and time on the weekends to travel, and to do fun things having nothing directly to do with our consulting project.
Once we put in place these tactics, and the TIGNUM-izing strategy as a whole, we noticed a great deal of performance improvement. It didn’t eliminate all the challenges of working in a cross-cultural environment, but that wasn’t the point. By taking control of our individual (and the team’s) performance, we allowed our talents to come through, which in turn helped us produce excellent work for our clients.
We also had more fun! And by assigning someone to each Pillar, we insured that the team was spreading responsibility across the our members. The result was stronger leadership, better interaction, and a greater sense of knowing each other. All the benefits of TIGNUM-izing our team helped us deliver a creative, well thought-out product for our clients, and to do so without feeling like we were burning out.
By David Stevens