Every year in Spain, the long tradition of building Castells—human towers reaching up to 10 stories—takes place. Teams compete to build the tallest and most complex tower made only of human beings standing atop one another. Success results only when a team can both build and deconstruct their towers without falling. The largest ever was 10 stories tall! What can we learn about effective teams from this amazing feat?
1. It all starts with a strong foundation – a shared vision. The strength of the human tower’s foundation determines how high it can go. The same can be said of work teams – the foundation of a shared vision upon which it is formed will determine the level it can reach in its performance.
2. Trust is essential. Trust in every member of your team is the only way the tallest tower can be built. If you don’t trust the person under you and over you, you will second-guess yourself. Too much uncertainty can weaken the tower as well as a work team.
3. Teams are most effective when they have a diversity of members. In the case of human towers, big and strong cannot succeed without light and agile. For work teams, diversity provides different talents, thinking skills, experiences, and perspectives.
4. Gender makes a difference. Believe it or not, women were not permitted to participate until the 1980’s. It was only after the addition of women that they have been able to build the highest towers higher. Work teams are also more effective when the talents and perspectives of women and men are synergized.
5. Being multi-generational makes a good team better. The top of the castell is always a child – the lightest and most agile member. Many work teams benefit greatly from having a mix of ages since each brings different perspectives and experiences and there is a lot that can be learned from one another.
6. Practice makes perfect. The human tower teams practice extensively to successfully accomplish the task without injury. This is true of work teams as well. Being a great team requires extensive time together including some trial and error.
7. Communication matters. The slightest mistake in formation of the human tower can result in serious injuries. This makes good communication essential. And the same is true for work teams – the greater the communication, the better the team performance.
8. Great teams have a great group image. The human tower teams spend time together, live in the same communities, celebrate their accomplishments, and even have team colors and team pride. Work teams benefit when they have a relationship beyond the task – one that reflects loyalty, camaraderie and… fun!
9. The top is no more important than the bottom. The person at the top of the human tower is not more important than the person at the bottom. Neither succeeds without the other. And this is true for work teams as well – it is the interdependence that determines success, not independence.
10. Good teams protect one another. Do you wonder how more people don’t get hurt when these human towers collapse? It’s partially because those at the bottom cushion the falls of those at the top. In other words, they protect one another. And that is what great teams do – they look out for each other.
Watch the Castells in action here.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.