Every now and then I’m blessed with a rare “psychic tap on the shoulder” to remind me why I do what I do. I got another one of those reminders this past week.
I was invited to spend a half day with 200 staff members of the Saginaw Intermediate School District – Head Start Program in Michigan. It was their last day of the school year and, rather than requesting a more celebratory fare to wind down and relax after a long, challenging year, they chose to focus on enhancing teamwork! Under the circumstances, I originally found this content choice unusual. However, I was more than happy to facilitate their very business-like request.
Head Start is a term that most of us have heard over the years but most would struggle to actually define properly. Head Start is a national child development program for children from birth to age 5. Ambitious goals include (1) enhancing children’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development; (2) enabling parents to be better caregivers and teachers to their children; and (3) helping parents meet their own goals, including economic independence.
Head Start was established in 1965 to help low-income families provide their children with developmentally appropriate education, health, and social services to better prepare them to achieve in school and society. Initially, Head Start served preschool children ages 3 to 5. Early Head Start (EHS) was created in 1994 to target the needs of pregnant women, infants and toddlers, thereby fostering positive development at even earlier stages. This fantastic program has served more than 18 million children and their families. Currently, there are more than 1,500 Head Start programs and 16,000 sites nationwide. Talk about a extraordinary calling, a massive responsibility and a gratifying undertaking!
It takes a very special person to successfully pursue such lofty goals, and I feel very fortunate to have met close to 200 very devoted people who certainly meet that description.
Upon the completion of my presentation, I was delighted to witness a very obvious IRONY surface throughout the auditorium. This entire audience spent the morning interacting, laughing, taking notes, asking questions, and obviously enjoying themselves and each other as they took more notes than I can remember a group taking in a very long time. This was indeed a very strong, proud, and productive team long before I arrived. They were already practicing the majority of the tools and strategies we discussed while openly accepting new approaches to existing challenges. They were so refreshing compared to the many groups we’ve worked with that truly needed a greater focus on teamwork but denied or ignored that obvious need. These folks were already very obviously operating as a dedicated “TEAM” and yet they hungered for more information and even greater opportunities to enhance their performance together. Very exhilarating!
I finished my portion of the program shortly before lunch. Two agenda items remained, and I must admit that both left me mesmerized as I watched from the back of the auditorium. Since their annual get-together last year, they’ve added close to 50 new staff members and wanted to introduce each by name and location. The first intro caught many off guard as they made the transition from program participants to aggressively vocal and supportive team members. However, they were very soon yelling, applauding, and cheering after each new introduction. At the conclusion of almost 50 introductions, one of the audience members raised her hand to make a request that brought a smile and an air of anticipation to everyone in the room. She simply pointed out that the very first introduction caught the majority of the room off guard, which resulted in that first new team member receiving less of a welcome than everyone else. She suggested the first intro be repeated. It was, and the room burst into applause and a standing ovation, which obviously thrilled the new team member. I’ve never seen anything like that. Most similar routines quickly fade into polite and redundant scattered applause after the first five or six introductions. Not so with this TEAM. Every new employee was made to feel very welcome, appreciated and supported.
After new employee recognition, each and every team member in the room was invited to the front of the room to receive a certificate of appreciation and a decorative key chain bearing the organization’s logo and motto. Here again is another ceremony that usually reaches obvious levels of boredom within minutes. This group stood up at the first offering and cheered, applauded, sang, whistled, yelled, and stomped their feet in support until every single presentation was completed. This demonstration of sincere support for everyone involved spoke volumes about the unique culture these fine folks have created and maintained. Their future success will grow as they continue to grow as a TEAM. The families they serve daily should be very grateful to have received their HEAD START from such a talented, dedicated, experienced TEAM of very special people.
I wish I could have filmed those closing moments to share with other clients. On the other hand, film would not have done them justice. Film couldn’t have captured the essence of this culture. You had to see it. You had to hear it. You had to feel it. This group truly has a HEAD START on most other teams. They are certainly to be commended, appreciated and applauded. They certainly made my day!