Creating cohesion and focus in the group
An onsite Book Sprint relies on the social quality of having a group in the same location, focused on completing one task. Personal lives are shared over a cup of coffee, lengthy discussions about the food or the local area at lunch and sometimes there are sightseeing walks or even elephant sightings.
These moments create relaxation in the midst of the stress of meeting the deadline and they also produce a sense of “we’re in this together”. Just as many companies had concerns about their staff working from home and feeling anxious, disconnected and alone, during the Covid-19 shutdown we shared the same concerns for virtual Book Sprints.
So when we started venturing into the territory of virtual Book Sprints, we realised we would have to find ways to cultivate that atmosphere in the online virtual space. One of the things we tested out was to start our days with mindfulness. Mindfulness, or the capacity to pay attention to the present moment, in an accepting, non-judgemental way is by now well-documented as having a positive effect on people’s stress levels and general wellbeing. It is used in all kinds of workplaces from Fortune 500 companies to governments and sports teams. As Dan Harris, the author of 10 Percent Happier says, “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions… That can have a big impact on how you are in the workplace.”
Creating awareness during the Book Sprint
Since Book Sprints are already stressful endeavours and on top of that we were facing Zoom Fatigue and the general context of Covid-19, creating a more mindful environment in the Sprint was something we looked into.
One of our Book Sprints facilitators, Faith Bosworth, is also a mindfulness teacher (see Calm and Connect) so she designed and ran some sessions for us at the start of each day. We started the Sprint with a sound awareness exercise, where Faith guided the group to pay attention to their sound environments and then to report back what they found new or interesting in what they heard. In the report backs we got a feeling for where people were and also how their lives might have changed in the light of Covid. There were kids playing in the room next door, birds loudly chirping, a partner on another video conference call. After this, the morning sessions were focused on the different phases of the Sprint, sometimes simply doing a go-round with the group and each person sharing something they wanted to celebrate with the group or a guided meditation to reflect on the purpose of the book and personal motivation for the Sprint.
The participants reported that the mindfulness sessions helped them counter the stress of getting the work done, and helped them refocus for the day. As Faith says “These small moments in the day created a container for everyone to check in with themselves and regulate emotions and distracting thoughts, which during this particular time, are understandably much louder. The sessions also helped to express and normalize the stress of the moment, reminding everyone that we’re all struggling at the moment yet we can still pull together and create a successful collaboration.”