CAMP MURRAY, WASH. - ‘Social Distancing’: it’s been much more than a Public Health statement and all-too-common buzz phrase over the last 15 months. To halt the spread of COVID-19, many of the physically distancing guidelines have altered everyday processes around the world in profound ways that still ripple thought-out our workplaces, schools, and group activities.
The side effects of Washington State Department of Health ‘Stay Home and Staying Healthy’ order and federal CDC guidance has disrupted our fundamental human need of connectedness and a sense of loss in our community. With Covid case numbers dropping and vaccines becoming available to everyone, the desire to meet, work and interact in larger group settings became a key priority with members of the Washington Air National Guard Headquarters Staff during a four-day unit-training period, April 29 to May 2.
“We looked at our unit climate survey that we completed this past December, and Chaplain (Todd) Luce did a wonderful job of breaking it out and walking our senior leadership through places where possible development areas could be found and improved upon,” said Washington Air National Guard Col. Paige Abbott, Director of Staff. “What our staff was looking for and expressed in the appraisal was wanting more connectedness to each -- which is understandable with all the Covid conditions we’ve been working under.”
Since March of 2020, most of the full-time staff has worked remotely at times and many of the Regularly Scheduled Drill (RSD) weekends were held virtually. Returning to in-person drills earlier this year only heightened the need to reconnect with colleagues again.
“Even when we were together -- we were apart,” said Abbott. “With many of the travel restrictions, doing an off-site event was difficult but with the training this past weekend, we specially set aside certain training time for connectedness.”
In setting up the training, Abbott empowered Master Sgt. Pogisa Faumuina, commander support staff, to lead a team of other volunteers to create a series of events, where members could share stories, build mentorship bonds, strengthen staff relationships and just get to know one another better on a more personal level.
“Sergeant Faumunia was excited about the Four Lens program because by getting to know yourself, it allows you to understand your teammates on multiple levels; that’s just goodness all-around!” said Abbott.
The 4 Lenses program is a personality assessment program that helps organizations build on an individual’s natural talent. The foundations stem from research of the Myers Briggs’ Personality Type, and taught in a group setting can create a unique team dynamic for longer and meaningful retention of the material.
For many of the Airmen, they’ve done this program before, but not being part of the Headquarters staff. After each person’s basic assessment with photo cards and brief descriptions, the four-color groups (Blue, Gold, Orange and Green) were separated to work in a more focused crew system.
The training was led by Washington Air National Guard Master Sergeants Jeffrey Mims and Tracy Thurston from the 225th Air Defense Group, yet all participants attended in civilian attire to help create a relaxed atmosphere and emphasize a personal level to the get-together.
“We wanted to create an interactive yet fun mood,” said Faumunia, who enthusiastically took part in the training, as everyone “found their color,” in the shared exercise.
During the three hours together, everyone had a chance to laugh at themselves and with each other. While discussing his own personality type, Mims was quick to point out his accountabilities as easily as his attributes.
“At times, I have no idea how my wife puts up with me,” he said in jest as others could relate to new personal discoveries about themselves. “But that’s what makes this kind of training important…we discover how many times opposites attract.”
Countering Mims more extroverted style, Thurston was equally effective with a more detailed, reassuring approach with the participants. “When we look at these personality types, we can pinpoint what these four color groups embody in distinct terms of values, strengths, needs and communication style,” she said. “Relating to others first begins with understanding ourselves as we have these shared desires for connection and acceptance.”
This training helped set the stage the following day for a peer mentorship session of “REAL TALK,” often referred to as ‘Speed Mentorship’ coaching. As the new 194th Wing Human Resources Advisor, Senior Master Sgt. Naziroh Brockman returned to lead her former co-workers for this fast paced approach of professional development.
“This type of mentoring is designed to build understanding in a cross-sectional way,” she said, detailing the one-on-one pairs. “We start with a trusted relationship and in this interactive process the participants can really leverage experience and wisdom from the other partner.”
As one person shared, the other could directly bounce back a focused perspective. Then after 10-minutes, there was time to change directions for 5-minutes before the groups would rotate and new pairs would start another round.
“Millennials are changing the dynamic of the workforce,” said Brockman, drawing a clear distinction to how this is impacting the military. “We are watching this generation grow and develop into the next group of senior leaders, so having them build awareness and understand with our current senior leadership is imperative.”
In 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, Millennials became the largest generation in the United States labor force. Brockman noted that their shared values will alter many of the current assumed convictions in the workforce.
“This generation (Millennials) already has a wealth of knowledge, and it’s empowering for me to help bridge communication from one group of leaders to the next in this training.”
The feedback was immediate and enlightening at the same time, even within the boisterous commotion of the duos spread out and interacting in one room.
“When we got the instructions that we had to talk to someone else about ourselves for five to ten minutes, I thought that would be really hard,” said Chief Master Sgt. Darllene Boydston, command support staff chief. “But I was surprised how fast it went because there was an authentic and shared interest.”
Overall the training gave the entire staff a much-needed pause to reconnect in person, away from the computer virtual meetings and day-to-day job requirements. As important as the mission is for members in the Washington National Guard, interfacing with each other in real-time is a fundamental part of the operation as well.
“The success of this type of training really depends on the willingness of the staff and our DSG’s to participate and really bring their full self,” said Abbott. “Having that freedom to ‘just be there’ for another person and get to know them. In the end it’s that human fulfillment, that connection with each other and it’s what keeps you coming back.”