February, 2017
Feature Article 

What I Learned About Teamwork 
From the Loss of My Sister

Me (on the left), my brother and sister in better days

My sister passed away two weeks ago, after a long and hard battle with cancer. My brother died of cancer seven years ago and, after the loss of my parents 20+ years ago I'm the sole remaining member of my immediate family. (Lousy gene pool, as the say!)

I'm writing this blog post because of the profound effect the mourning process has had on me, and the unique insights that it has provided into human nature and how people, with a sense of purpose, can do wonderful things.

A little introduction to Jewish mourning first. In the Jewish faith we bury our dead quickly and then the immediate family sits what we called Shiva, or seven days of mourning.  It provides an opportunity for friends and family to pay their respects and a chance for the immediate members of the lost relative to grieve together, and pull together, over an extended period of time.

For a sibling, spouse or child one then goes through a period called Shloshim, in which one can go to a synagogue and, with a group of individuals, recite prayers and generally think about one's lost relative. It's a ritual sign of respect. For mourning over the loss of a mother or father it's 11 months or so of mourning, but we won't go into that.

What's been interesting about the mourning process is the unabashed support of the group that each individual has taken on. Some volunteer to lead the prayers, some organize the breakfast, some provide info on what's going on within the synagogue, one older gentleman of 94 carries around the donation box to collect money for the poor.

Some just pray but this little group (minyan, it's called), works like a well oiled machine to serve the needs of the community and to support each other in challenging times.  These individuals come from all walks of life. Some are rich and some are poor. Some are well-versed in the minutiae of the religion and some are novices.

So why do I mention this mourning process in a leadership related newsletter? It's because the act of pulling together towards some communal goal is what every team faces. In our case it was making sure that we support each other and that the infrastructure is available to help the community members grieve.

The experience made me think of Gallup's 12 Questions on Employee Engagement. These are questions which, if answered in the affirmative, define engaged employees/people. I ticked off every box. Here are Gallup's 12 questions.
  1. I know what is expected of me at work.
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. Someone at work seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Engaged employees show their motivation, hard work and positive attitudes in all sorts of situations. Perhaps understanding when and how these traits showed up in a candidate's past is a good question to ask next time you're interviewing a prospective employee. Chances are if it happened before, it will happen again.

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As mentioned above, my sister died a few weeks ago. Besides the loss I have one significant regret. That was, that we loved each other but in many ways, we didn't really know each other that well.

Storycorps is a great online resource that allows you to interview people and find out their life stories. It's a repository to which you can upload your story, as well as an interviewing tool. Here are a list of questions which act as a starting point for uncovering the story.