I played sports when I was younger, though I was never really very good at them. One thing I learned early on was that the team that surrounded you was very critical to success or failure. My first year in Little League my team was awful – we ended the season 1-15. But in Senior League (think Babe Ruth league) I was part of a championship winning season. In neither case was the success or failure all due to my skills as a ball player, but had much more to do with the teams that I played on.
As we set out for this mission trip to Nicaragua, I think I understood that perhaps the one factor that would contribute more to our success or failure on the trip would be the way that our team interacted with one another. While we had met several times in preparation for the trip, and communicated via email countless other times, I had a little bit of lingering doubt as to how well we would work with one another in an environment that would be unfamiliar for all of us.
From the very beginning of the trip our team was under stress. We ended up leaving one of our members behind (our translator and driver) on the trip down because his ticket had been rebooked onto another flight. We had precious little time to make our connections both in New York and in Miami. And despite the fact that nothing went the way we planned it that first Saturday, I didn't feel like any of us skipped a beat. Sure we were frustrated and rushed, but everyone seemed able to handle the stress. In fact, I wonder if it served to bring us together right from the start.
In a group of five people, it would be very easy for one person to make life difficult for everyone else, but we had no such concerns at all. We worked through the normal issues of travel, including a few days at the end of the trip when most of us were feeling a little under the weather. We worked through a couple of times when we had some disagreements about how to deal with complicated situations, and were able to do so respectfully and thoughtfully. At every turn I felt like we were working together to accomplish a task much larger than what any of us could have done on our own – which is my definition of what a good team does.
Just before we left Villa Esperanza I had a conversation with one of the guys who worked on the grounds around the facility. He remarked that our team had been different from other teams that had stayed there in the past. He said that some of the teams had very little interaction with the staff at all, but that ours had been different – we had treated them as equals and as friends, rather than just as workers. I thought that said a lot about the character and quality of our team, and reminded me of just how privileged I was to spend those 11 days with such a great group of people.
I think I'll have one more blog in me about the time in Nicaragua, so I hope you'll join me later this week for that final installment.