Whakapapa is a Maori term that has several meanings, the first being how a person is connected to the Maori lineage and all things in the world, in short, their genealogy.
An additional meaning that might be relevant for you and your teams in 2022 is a "deep connection to land and the roots of one's ancestry."
The words "deep connection" and "ancestry" are of particular interest right now because these feelings lead to a strong sense of collective trust. It is our view that teams only move as fast as their collective trust will allow them. We have shortened this concept up over the years into the phrase "teams move at the speed of trust."
We learned about Whakapapa in a new book by Owen Eastwood called Belonging, the Ancient Code of Togetherness and we think it is timely given the significant headwinds we are facing with respect to trust within our teams and communities.
Eastwood is part Maori and part Englishman and works with professional sports teams around the world on building out current and authentic origin stories for teams like the New Zealand All Blacks and the South African Proteas. He helps teams create and define their own Whakapapa, and then build out processes for enabling their efforts to honor it.
Part of his process is to make sure that all members of the team feel like their past is honored and respected as they start to build a new collective vision for the team each season. This is in stark contrast to the past dominant cultures of sports teams where the new players are hazed and are not respected until they perform on the field. It is a fundamental shift away from a fear based culture.
Sports teams are not work teams, but in some ways they are actually more dynamic or brutal on human capital than the fastest growing tech company. If you can't impact the game, you won't see the field let alone be on the team. So why should the sports teams care about connection when everyone is just one injury away from being out for the season? Why go through all the hassle on the "soft stuff"?
The answer according to Eastwood's book is that creating a sense of belonging is the fastest way to get a group of people to volunteer to climb into the physical and emotional pain cave of practice and games which are table stakes in professional sport.
Another insight is that once you create a culture of high achievement and an "all in" attitude the positive endorphins that come from being elite are being heavily researched and scientifically proven. This is why many of the best runners run with other runners, and the best swimmers swim with other swimmers. To get from good to great involves pain management which starts in the brain. A great way to trick the brain to volunteer for future pain is to be around other people who are climbing the "hard fun hill."
Our aim in sharing this is to empower you with current ideas to help your teams adapt as efficiently as possible amidst the constraint which is the pandemic. As the disconnection rises all around them, your teammates will be more likely to contribute all they have to your team when they feel connected to each other.
Now is the time to create an environment where people feel like they belong.
Thank you for your readership and friendship,
Drew & Sara
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