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Tea And Empathy - A Wellbeing Ritual For Teams

May is Mental Health Awareness month and I have never been more aware of my mental health than right now.

eggs with different facial expressions drawn on
eggs with different facial expressions drawn on

The world is currently living with a high degree of fear, sadness and uncertainty. We mustn't underestimate the impact of living with these volatile emotions for long periods.

We need to think deeply about how we're taking care of our mental wellbeing. How are we managing stress, anxiety, loneliness, and disconnection?

In my profession as a workplace facilitator, I reflect a lot on the idea of rituals. Our lives are full of both informal and explicit rituals. An example of informal ritual is what we do when we arrive in the office. An example of an explicit ritual is a daily standup meeting. Many explicit modern workplace rituals are drawn from or inspired by Agile and lean methodologies.

Last month, I wrote about an agile inspired end of day ritual. In that same spirit, and in honor of Mental Health Awareness month, I've created a ritual for wellbeing and connection.

In particular, it has two purposes...

  1. Slowing us down: When we slow down our movement and our thinking, we have an easier time processing thoughts and gain greater clarity of mind. It helps us raise our emotional self-awareness.
  2. Getting us talking about feelings with our colleagues: Talking openly about feelings requires vulnerability. That vulnerability is the foundation for trust. It humanizes the people you work with and helps to build empathy. All of this contributes to psychological safety at work and paves the way for healthy, happy, high-performing teams.

The Ritual: Tea and Empathy

tray with glass mug and pot of tea
tray with glass mug and pot of tea

You will need...

  • A facilitator for the ritual.
  • Access to coffee- / tea-making equipment.
  • 6–20 participants.

The facilitator will schedule a 1 hour video call for the participants. Once everyone has arrived, they will then...

  • Welcome everyone.
  • Paste the instructions below for step 1 into the chat, making sure everyone has read and understood them.
  • Let everyone know how long they should be taking for step 1 (20 mins works well).
  • Invite everyone to switch off their cameras and microphones as they begin step 1.

Step 1: Tea Making - 20 mins

This step is all about maximizing the experience of making a hot drink. Tea / coffee work well but any hot beverage will do as long as there is manual work involved in making it.

Measure the tea or coffee. Heat the water. Whilst the water is boiling, mentally scan over your body. Begin to raise awareness of the different sensations that are occurring.

When it's ready, pour on the water. Then sit down in front of your drink, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

Once the tea is brewed or the coffee is ready, look at it carefully and notice everything you can about its appearance.

Slowly lift the cup. Feel the warmth, the texture and shape of the cup, and the aroma of the drink.

Then take your first sip. Savor the warm nurturing feeling. Really taste it - from when it touches your tongue until you swallow it. Take a moment for appreciation.

Bring your hot drink to your computer and rejoin the video call. Or put your microphone and camera back on.

Step 2: Team Video Call With Breakouts - 30 mins

(4 people x 2 mins x 3 rounds)

The facilitator starts by welcoming everyone and asking everyone to hold their mug up to the camera for a group 'Cheers' (or Salute/Proost/Mabuhay etc). Take a screenshot. Then the facilitator will...

  • Provide this important notice: During step 2, we are going to talk about the "f word" - feelings. This is not therapy - it's not a time to try and work through complicated feelings. It's simply a chance to notice your feelings and acknowledge them in a shared space.
  • Organize the group into sub-groups of 3–4 (Zoom breakouts is great for this)
  • Explain that each sub-group is going to run three rounds in which a specific question is posed for everyone to answer. For each round, each person in the sub-group will get up to 2 mins to answer the question with as much honesty and introspection as they feel comfortable with.
  • Provide the three questions in the chat and invite the sub-groups to begin...(in Zoom, the host/facilitator can also provide prompts for when it's time to move to the next question).
  1. Notice and Name - What thoughts and feelings came up for you during the tea ritual?
  2. Expand Awareness - What new thoughts and feelings have you been dealing with since the coronavirus outbreak began?
  3. Fresh Perspectives - Can you think of any ways you can slow down and become more aware of your feelings?

Step 3: Conclude - 5 mins

The facilitator brings everyone back to the main room and...

  • Optional: Screen share a blank Google Slide (or equivalent) and invite everyone to draw their feelings/takeaways on it - this can be good for people who find drawing easier than using words.
  • Ask everyone to prepare a one-sentence take-away from the ritual by typing it into their chat box but not hitting send.
  • After a minute, asks everyone to hit send simultaneously - creating a 'chat waterfall'.
  • Take a minute or two for everyone to walk through the takeaways
  • Thank everyone for participating and then end the call.

If it sounds wacky or a bit kooky for you, try to let go of that judgement momentarily. The world is a different place now and we need to try new strategies to cope accordingly.

In the spirit of curiosity, exploration and open-mindedness, I hope you give this try and let me know how it goes!

At PeopleStorming, I'm designing a series of workshops around empathy, communication and wellbeing at work. Let me know if you're curious about them.

You might be interested in our Preventing Burnout workshop where we'll help you ensure the team has the information and resources needed to own their wellbeing and avoid burnout.

Or you can check out our free burnout guide.