‘Team Building in the Workplace’

Real-world tips to bring out the best in employees.

In November, Team Building in the Workplace presented a program titled, “What is a Toxic Workplace, and How to Prevent It.” — Courtesy MV Chamber of Commerce

“Team Building in the Workplace,” a series of innovative workshops held on Thursdays in the Oak Bluffs library and sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, recently shuttered its successful fall run. The 90-minute, bring-your-own-lunch affairs featured an array of hands-on exercises designed to optimize small business performance, and were delivered by local nonprofit the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program.

“The MVMP is something that not everyone knows about,” Roland Miller, the group’s secretary and treasurer said. “We’ve been active on the Island for over 30 years now, and can be an invaluable resource for small businesses and individuals alike.”

A recent installment in the series “Team Building in a Conflict-Positive Workplace” tackled issues ranging from conscious management planning, pinpointing what conflict is and isn’t, identifying one’s own approach to conflict, and dealing with “difficult” people in the workplace.

Indeed, activities at the Conflict-Positive installment included a provocative “I REALLY DON’T LIKE DOING …” placard on which conference participants listed their least favorite workplace obligations. Pretending to be employees of an imaginary company called Acme Supermarkets, attendees practiced offloading disagreeable activities while taking on more palatable duties on behalf of fellow staffers. Team members were then split into two groups and engaged in back-and-forth teaching exercises designed to foster communication. 

Other installments in the seven-episode symposium (three in the spring, four in the fall) delved into areas such as Respect Building, Reviewing Your Own Conflict Style, Sarcasm, and identifying the 12 Components of a Toxic Workplace. Each session offered tactile tools for Island businesses looking to retool in the off-season and maximize efficiency for the upcoming 2020 season.

“We’ve been so fortunate to partner with Sara Barnes and the MVMP for this series of inspiring workshops,” Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Chamber, said. “‘Team Building in the Workplace’ is all about real-world tips to build a healthy, positive space for people to be at their best. What I love about the events is that they always include discussion and activities; they’re very participatory.” 

Sara Barnes, president and lead MVMP mediator and Rachel Ben David, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Association and MVMP board member, were the chief presenters in the seminar series that was not only well-attended but well-reviewed.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish with these pretty self-explanatory tools,” Kyle Anderson, chef at Island caterer Kitchen Porch, said. “I guess they’re not really so self-explanatory, but when they click, you realize how helpful some simple techniques can be.”

Myla Tweed, who was stopping by just for the Conflict-Positive session (participants were encouraged to attend the full slate of presentations for maximum effect) seconded Anderson’s point.  

“I really wasn’t sure what to expect from these seminars. I’ve been to a lot of these things, but what I like about Sara’s [Barnes] style is that it’s very no-nonsense. It’s not overly touchy-feely. It’s very focused on people and real-world solutions.”

“You are all in the people business,” Barnes, who brings to the table 30 years of experience as a teacher, administrator, and professor in New York City, reminded participants at a number of points during the day. “Whether you’re a hairstylist or an accountant, or run a supermarket or a restaurant, everyone is in the people business.” 

Founded in 1984 by Dukes County Judge Herbert Tucker and Clerk Magistrate Thomas Teller, the MVMP program was originally known as the Edgartown District Court Mediation Program and limited to cases referred by the Dukes County District Court. Now the organization handles areas of expertise ranging from estates and property to landlord/tenant, elder affairs, debt collection, and even child custody and divorce.

The MVMP is a nonprofit organization whose work is strictly confidential, and fees are based on a sliding scale or provided pro bono.

According to Gardella, the Chamber hopes to offer a different set of workshops in the spring, but might repeat this year’s popular autumn series again next fall. Although the workshops are designed for and offered exclusively to members and member organizations of the Chamber of Commerce, walk-ins are welcome, as are new Chamber signatories.

If mediation is on your agenda, perhaps the organization’s slogan provides prescient advice for the new year: “We Can Work It Out!”