“Look to your left. Look to your right. Look around this entire circle. You may not know it now, but these are going to be some of your best friends.” I spoke these words to my Rising Stars! (now fifth graders) on their very first day of Destination Imagination (DI) practice. I’m not sure if they remember this introduction, or how much they remember about their early practices in general, but I hope that through their own experiences with DI, they will get the message. As a Team Manager who is also an alumna, these words were true for me. My co-manager is my former teammate and my longtime boyfriend. I’ve been to the weddings of former teammates, attended funerals with them, and have kept in touch despite going to different colleges, getting different types of jobs, and living in different parts of the country. I’m sure that many other alumni out there can agree that more than anything else, DI gives you friends for life.
I was able to earn these lifelong friendships primarily because I had a series of Team Managers—Matthew Newcamp, Jo Ann Hepler, and Judy Glass—that put an emphasis on making sure that each of us enjoyed the program. From them, I learned that the most important thing of all is that a team’s success is not measured in awards, but rather in experiences. Whether you win or lose at the tournament, you still get ice cream and go home, just like everyone else. If you are able to look back on the year and say, “Yes, I had fun with my friends and we all learned something,” then you have won.
Now that I am a Team Manager, I constantly ask myself questions related to the experience my kids are having. Are my kids learning? Are they having fun? Are they making friends? When conflicts arise, as they inevitably will, it is up to the kids to work out these problems. However, it is your role as the Team Manager to monitor their decision-making process and ensure that the kids are still learning, having fun, and making friends. The kids must decide for themselves which idea is chosen, how to agree upon that idea, and for what reasons. They must learn to work together regardless of their differing opinions, skills sets and goals. Real teamwork skills develop when the kids can look past their differences and come to a solution. Strong teams are the ones that have dealt with conflict in the past; their experiences have taught them how to prioritize, how to evaluate ideas, and how to respectfully work with others. In order to develop these strong teamwork skills, the kids have to respect each other, trust each other, and be comfortable expressing themselves in front of each other—they need to bond.
Yet, sometimes it seems that it is impossible to have the necessary bonding time that developing strong teamwork requires when there is so much work to do to prepare for Team Challenge and Instant Challenge. My co-manager and I fell into this trap last year—we spent all of our practice time on task-oriented activities. We neglected the necessary relationship-oriented activities and bonding practices that do wonders to help teamwork and friendships improve. We are not making the same mistake again. Relationship-orientated activities—ranging from simple team building activities to team parties and field trips—allow the kids to get to know each other on a deeper level, which in turn improves their teamwork skills and friendships.
The best part of my DI experience as a team member was just hanging out with my friends. Because of all of our bonding practices, our team eventually became so synced that solving the DI Challenges felt less like a stressful group project, and more like just playing games. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, but we always had fun—maybe that is why so many of my former teammates have become DI volunteers in their adult lives. We continue to love and support DI because it gave us such a positive experience. As a Team Manager, I want every single one of my kids to have these types of experiences because I want every single one of my kids to receive what DI gave to me: great memories and great friends.
About the Author: Marie Farley is embarking on her 13th year of involvement with Destination Imagination, and her 12th year focusing on the Improv Challenge (she spent one year working with Rising Stars). Along with her co-manager, former DI teammate, and longtime boyfriend, Alex Golding, she currently manages a fifth-grade team at T.C. Martin Elementary School in Southern Region, Maryland.