Maria Schnabel

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Could This be the Ultimate Display of True Teamwork?

How many ways are there to say “there is no I’ in team” before your audience’s eyes glaze over?

Apparently, not enough.

Day in and day out, coaches, team leaders, and business writers everywhere struggle to come up with the one example that will ignite their people’s spirit of teamwork.

I think I found it.

The Castellers de Vilafranca perform in Barcelona in May 2017.

Can you top this?

It involves one of those centuries-old, folksy traditions (this one from my native Catalonia) that tourists find so quirky.

It’s called the Castellers, which literally means “castle builders.” As the name implies, it has to do with teams from different locales attempting to build—and disassemble—human towers. (Watch video) 

Why, you ask? Well, to prove the town’s strength, agility, team spirit, if you will, against that of neighboring towns. Keep in mind that this tradition hails from the early 18th Century when entertainment options were limited.

So what makes a centuries-old tradition a perfect example of teamwork for the 21st Century?

Let me connect the dots between the Castellers and some of the characteristics of teamwork.

1 – There is no “I,” no “me,” no “MVP”

I’ve always wondered why we say there is no “I” in team and then proceed to emblazon the individuals’ names on their uniforms. Also, if we’re talking about a team without an “I,” why do we have an MVP?

Isn’t that a contradiction?

Now look at the photos of the Castellers. You won’t see names or numbers on the uniforms. You won’t even see most of their faces as they intensely focus on the build. And the little girl who tops the tower, known as the enxaneta, is as valuable to the team as the heavy fellow at the very bottom of the construction, whom spectators don’t even get to see.

No “I,” no “me,” no “MVP”

2 – Trust

There is not much I can say about trust here that is not obvious just by looking at the Castellers.

Would you be willing to climb a human tower five, six, seven-stories high—or let your child do that—unless you had the utmost most level of trust in your team?

An “enxaneta” from Castellers de Sabadell works on her balance during winter rehearsals.

In fact, would you be willing to be squashed and stepped on unless you trusted that your teammates were committed to reaching the same goal?

3 – Clear Goals and Well-Defined Roles

If you ever get to see a Castellers performance in real life, and I hope you will, you may be surprised by what seems to be total chaos immediately before the build starts. You’ll see team members chattering around, telling jokes, smoking cigarettes (yes!), and just plain socializing.

You’ll wonder: Is there a plan in place? Is anyone even thinking about the plan?

The Castellers de Poble Sec socialize before getting down to business.

The answer is yes, and yes.

Each one of the team members knows the type of structure they are going to build next and his or her specific position in it. You’ll realize that as soon as the team leader (who, by the way, remains mostly unseen and unnoticed by the spectators) signals the start of the climb.

Yes, there is a plan, and it has names and positions for each formation.

Growing bodies are measured periodically to make sure they can play the right role in the structure. Here, the Sabadell team.

Everyone takes their places. Over the next few minutes, and in precise movements, they will assemble a human tower according to the specifications they have rehearsed so many times.

The Castellers de Sabadell rehearse indoors during the winter.

A successful tower needs to have both a full assembly and disassembly, which requires having a strong base or pinya (pinecone).  When the base is considered solid, the team’s musicians begin to play the traditional tune of the Castellers. There is a general hush as spectators hold their breath until the little girl, the enxaneta, crosses the top of the structure holding up four straight fingers, and begins the descent down the other side, followed by the others.

4 – Diversity

While centuries old, the Castellers tradition remained mostly dormant until recently, particularly during Franco’s 40-year repression of Spain’s regional cultures. After his death in 1975, traditions like the Castellers reemerged as proud symbols of regional identity.

But there is one more reason for the recent interest in the Castellers: Diversity. More specifically, the result of women entering what had been a male-only field.

Because they tend to weigh less than men, teams are able to build and disassemble higher and more daring structures, some that would have been impossible in the past, adding to their popularity. [Notice their role in the video.]

Women help Castellers reach new heights. Here, the Castellers de Sabadell.

With women in this formerly male-only tradition, teams are able to build lighter and more daring structures.

Want to know more?

It’s ironic that I should make the connection between the Castellers and teamwork after retiring from business communications. I offer it to those of you still in the trenches.

And if you plan to be in Catalonia some time during the summer months, you may want to add a Castelllers event to your itinerary. If nothing else, you can be sure to get a lot of likes to your quirky Facebook photos.

A young castle builder from the Poble Sec team watches a competing build.

Useful links:

  • Find out more about the teams and their upcoming performances through their main organization, the CCCC, the Official Association of Casteller Teams.  They also have an English website.
  • Castellers de Vilafranca website
  • About the Castellers de Sabadell website
  • Castellers de Poble Sec website

Photo credits:  Cover photo courtesy of Castellers de Vilafranca.  Women in Sabadell Castellers courtesy of Larry Stevens. All others: Copyright Maria Schnabel

 

 

 

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12 Comments

  • Carol Hanlon

    Great observations! I’ve always wondered about that MVP thing…never really fit with the concept of team.

    • Maria Schnabel

      Thanks for the comment. Good to know I’m not the only one who found it weird.

  • Keric Shanahan

    Well done Maria! Teams are strongest when each person’s strengths are utilized to the fullest. The recalibrating of the members’ sizes shows how things much be assessed and tweaks made, i.e. don’t do something just because it’s always been done that way.

    • Maria Schnabel

      Good observation, Keric. Thanks for the comment.

  • Juli Bosch

    Great article Maria, I enjoyed it. I believe there are two more things you could add to the chapter of Diversity. The first is that castells are an activity that can simultaneously be enjoyed by three generations of the same family, grandparents, parents and children all have a role to play. It often happens, is not at all rare. The other is its absolute lack of discrimination: nobody is irreplaceable but everybody is necessary, everybody, in capital letters, has a role to play in the castle, even the spectators are encouraged to form part of the base. That is why you get such an extraordinary feeling of group belonging.
    Moltes gràcies
    Juli Bosch
    Castellers de Sabadell

    • Maria Schnabel

      Glad you liked, Juli, and thanks for the added insights. Very good points.

      Maria

  • Ralph

    Great post Maria. The video is amazing.

    Ralph de la Vega

  • Víctor Colomer

    Very interesting relations betwen team philosophy in anglosaxon world and castellers. Congratualations for your wonderful post. But there´s still one more thing that make castellers even more important: The hability to join people from diferents countries of the world. The catalan dance, sardanas, for example, cannot say the same. But in a Castellers Colla you can easily find people from Bolivia, Morroco, Senegal, Georgia, Ucraïne and asian countries. Only, unfortunatelly, with one exception: muslim women (too much body contact for them).
    Even disabilities are accepted. In Sabadell Colla, Els Saballuts, one of the members is completly blind.

    (Corregeix-m’ho plis M.Dolors!!!)

    • Maria Schnabel

      Thanks for the additional insights, Victor. Did not know about the blind member. Perfect example of the the inclusive environment of today’s Castellers.

  • Bonnie LaForge

    Fun and insightful blog, Maria! I love the different aspects of the regional Spanish cultures and I look forward to seeing this someday!

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