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Bayanihan Spirit: Team Building in the Philippines

In Team Bayanihan, we promote the bayanihan spirit. It is an inspiring Filipino value that we witness often. And if we can bring this core value to our leadership and team-building programs, we can see progress.

When I started facilitating team-building programs in 2007, I did what most amateur facilitators do. I consulted Google for the best team-building activities and programs. And I found many programs which in retrospect look silly if they were not American-made.

The search engine is dominated by American-owned websites. So, in my small ways, I want to bring the Filipino brand of team building to the world.

In the Philippines, the Bayanihan spirit is a powerful symbol of unity and cooperation. 

This beautiful concept lies at the heart of Filipino culture, making it an ideal foundation for team-building programs. 

In this article, Let’s explore the connections between the Bayanihan spirit and effective team building, and discover how your organizations can benefit from embracing this unique cultural treasure.

bayanihan

The Bayanihan Spirit: A Philippine Treasure

Bayanihan, a term derived from the word “bayani” (meaning hero) which originated from the word “bayan” (meaning community), encapsulates the Filipino values of togetherness, collaboration, and mutual support. 

Bayanihan is an invitation for members of the community (country, church, company, etc) to be heroes.

This age-old tradition has been woven into the fabric of Philippine society, with countless stories of neighbors banding together to help one another during challenging times. 

The core values of Bayanihan—unity, cooperation, and support—serve as guiding principles for building strong, cohesive teams.

Principles of Team Building

Successful team-building activities share common goals: fostering trust, enhancing communication, promoting cooperation, and building teamwork skills.

By creating a supportive environment, these activities allow team members to grow and learn from each other. 

The cultural context plays a crucial role in shaping team-building experiences. 

When we introduce to Filipino audiences principles alien to them, we spend much time on lectures for knowledge acquisition or force it on them as if they need to learn Western ideas for them to succeed.

This reminds me of a couple of Americans whom I met at Mactan-Cebu International Airport. They were accompanied by a previous client who is the country manager of their company. During the short conversation, they told me how difficult it was for them to teach the Good to Great by Jim Collins. 

I told them some Filipino values could have made it easier for their audience to understand Good to Great. They were surprised to learn how these Filipino values could have made the training more engaging.

They have two problems: they did not tailor-fit their programs to their audiences, and they were not trainers. Trying to discuss a book in three days is more boring than reading the book itself.

The book is an important book. It is also boring.

I digress, a bit.

Incorporating the Bayanihan spirit can enrich these team building programs with deep-rooted Filipino values.

Incorporating the Bayanihan Spirit into Team Building Activities

To effectively incorporate the Bayanihan spirit into team-building activities, organizations should focus on fostering collaboration, unity, and a strong sense of community. 

Here are some ways to infuse the Bayanihan spirit into team-building programs:

Emphasize Cooperation and Collaboration

Design team challenges and activities that require collaboration and cooperation, encouraging team members to work together towards a common goal. 

These activities should promote interdependence, highlighting the importance of each individual’s role in the team’s success.

Utilize Traditional Filipino Games and Activities

Integrate traditional Filipino games and activities into the team-building program to provide a culturally relevant context for promoting teamwork. 

Games such as “palo-sebo,” “kadang-kadang,” “sipa,” “luksong baka,” and “patintero” require cooperation and coordination, fostering unity and camaraderie among team members.

When I did a team building at Misibis Bay Resort, I incorporated the games palo sebo and kadang-kadang. The debriefing session was so rich. The country manager of the company, who previously was hesistant to conduct team building, decided to offer the team building programs to all of their employees.

Encourage Open Communication and Active Listening

Create opportunities for team members to engage in open and honest communication, practicing active listening to better understand each other’s perspectives, strengths, and challenges. 

Facilitate group discussions and reflection sessions to help team members process their experiences, identify areas of improvement, and celebrate successes.

Foster a Sense of Community and Belonging

Build a strong sense of community and belonging by creating an inclusive environment where all team members feel valued and respected. 

One famous line we learned from school is ” Pagkakaisa sa gitna ng pagkakaiba”. Calling everyone’s attention to this will remind people of what they already know.

By doing so, it will be easier for you to celebrate the diversity of the group and encourage team members to share their unique skills, talents, and perspectives in a supportive setting.

Incorporate Community Service and Social Responsibility

Many companies have CSR programs. These programs not only help allow the companies to save on taxes while doing marketing for their products. 

Some CSR programs helped communities and when designed properly can bring meaning to the work of your employees. 

It can build teams better for they are working together to accomplish worthwhile activities.

Incorporate community service or social responsibility initiatives into the team building program so they can experience the Bayanihan spirit firsthand by helping others in need. 

This shared experience of giving back can strengthen bonds and create a lasting impact on the team’s dynamic.

Showcase Filipino Cultural Traditions

Celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines by showcasing Filipino traditions, arts, and customs during team-building activities. 

Imagine a team building based on Francis M’s song Mga Kababayan. Its message is very powerful. Or Mike Hanopol’s Bayanihan sa Bayan ni Juan.

Incorporate traditional music, dance, or crafts, and provide team members with an immersive and authentic cultural experience.

You don’t need them to carry a house. 

Asking them to build a boat is already an excellent activity to talk about bayanihan.

Promote Mindfulness and Reflection

Introduce mindfulness and reflection exercises into the team building program, helping team members cultivate “kamalayan” (awareness), “malasakit” (empathy), and a deeper connection to the Bayanihan spirit.

 Encourage participants to reflect on their “pagpapahalaga” (values), strengths, and challenges, and consider how they can contribute to the team’s collective success.

This is easier than described here.

You can ask participants to draw things that are very valuable to them. This will encourage them to discuss what matters to each other.

Collaborate with Local Experts and Community Members

Partner with local experts, community members, or cultural organizations to ensure the authenticity and cultural relevance of bayanihan-inspired team-building activities. 

For example, when you go to El Nido, you will enjoy island-hopping. 

But could you say you went there when you have not interfaced with the people? Most tourists don’t get to know the people because they are brought to where they can spend most of their money.

What if you bring your CSR to the place? 

The team-building experience will be different once you make it more meaningful.

These partnerships can provide valuable insights, resources, and connections, enriching the overall team-building experience.

By thoughtfully incorporating the Bayanihan spirit into team-building activities, your organization can create meaningful and transformative experiences that foster collaboration, unity, and a strong sense of community among team members.

Bayanihan-Inspired Team Building Programs in the Philippines

Several organizations have successfully integrated the Bayanihan spirit into their team-building initiatives. 

A corporate retreat in the picturesque province of Palawan utilized local customs and activities to strengthen bonds among colleagues. 

Imagine going there next time and understanding how the artists of El Nido Boutique Cafe made their beautiful crafts. Surely, you can arrange that. 

A non-profit organization, devoted to improving the lives of children and their families, harnessed the Bayanihan principles to inspire their volunteers, promoting cooperation and camaraderie. 

An educational institution in Manila embraced Bayanihan values to enhance collaboration among its faculty members. Education is not transactional. Education is nation-building and the value that drives home the message is bayanihan.

Benefits of Bayanihan-Based Team Building

At this time, likely, you have already imagined the benefits of bayanihan-based team building. But allow me to write them.

A bayanihan-based team building approach offers numerous advantages for organizations, rooted in the values of unity, cooperation, and mutual support. 

The following are some key benefits that arise from incorporating the Bayanihan spirit into team-building activities:

Enhanced Communication and Understanding

Fostering an environment that encourages open communication helps team members understand each other’s perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses. 

The bayanihan spirit nurtures empathy and active listening, allowing individuals to connect on a deeper level and work together more effectively.

Deeper Trust and Unity

Tiwala at pagkakaisa. You can’t go wrong with these two values. In fact, most Filipinos find it easier to believe you when you call for unity, rather than good governance. The concept of good governance is alien to us. 

But you can introduce it when you call for unity. And to do that, you must earn our trust.

The cooperative nature of bayanihan-based team building strengthens bonds between team members, creating a greater sense of trust and unity. 

When individuals feel supported and valued, they are more likely to contribute openly, collaborate effectively, and work towards a shared vision.

Improved Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Abilities

It is amazing what people can achieve when they put their minds together. Things may look counter-intuitive at first. But what happens is a meeting of the minds in solving problems together.

I can think of Community Pantries, an expression of modern-day bayanihan. I can think of many volunteers under the leadership of former Vice-President Leni Robredo, who worked together to help those in need. 

These two ladies were mocked for solving problems that the government could not solve. 

Those who practice bayanihan solve problems and make quality decisions. They shame the lazy and mediocre.

In this sense, the best way to show people what is mediocre is to show what is great. Bayanihan brings out greatness.

The Bayanihan spirit encourages teams to approach challenges and obstacles collectively. 

This collaborative mindset enhances problem-solving and decision-making abilities, as team members learn to leverage their diverse skills and perspectives to find innovative solutions.

Increased Employee Engagement and Motivation

Bahat at trabaho. These are two places where most employees spend their lives. 

Filipino want to work in a place that treats them as people, a member of the family. That work becomes a home away from home.

We give it our best when we feel safe, secure, and respected.

Bayanihan-based team-building activities foster a sense of belonging and purpose among team members. 

This connection to the group and its goals leads to increased employee engagement and motivation, resulting in higher productivity, better performance, and lower turnover rates.

Adaptability and Resilience

Filipinos are known for resiliency. It is natural for them that you seldom read an explanation of why they do it.

The secret is in the spirit of bayanihan. Alone we cannot do much. We are weak. We lack resources. But together, we are strong.

Embracing the Bayanihan spirit helps teams develop a strong foundation of support and cooperation, making them more adaptable and resilient in the face of change. 

In an ever-evolving business landscape, teams that can effectively navigate challenges together are more likely to succeed.

Cross-Cultural Awareness and Appreciation

I mentioned “Pagkakaisa sa gitna ng pagkakaiba” earlier. I did when I mentioned diversity. 

But it is not just about diversity. It is about the importance of individuals to the team.

Foster a deeper appreciation for Filipino culture and values. Cross-cultural awareness can extend to other areas of an organization, promoting inclusivity and mutual respect among diverse team members.

Shared Responsibility and Accountability

Responsibility and accountability are often translated into Filipino in one word: “pananagutan.” That’s how connected these two words are. 

However, when you consider the root word of accountability, you can find the word kwenta and bilang. And when you consider its other meaning, a sense of ownership, accountability goes beyond pananagutan.

It becomes a recognition that you are important and that you belong. That’s what bayanihan is all about. You belong to the bayan. You are a valuable member of the bayan. Whatever you do will affect your bayan.

The action of one affects everyone. 

The actions of everyone affect me too.

Bayanihan-based team building instills a sense of shared responsibility and accountability, as team members learn to rely on and support one another. 

Bayanihan reduces individual stress, distributes workloads more evenly, and encourages collective ownership of successes and setbacks.

Enhanced Leadership Skills

You may consider bayanihan sa heroic and participative leadership. 

By engaging in Bayanihan-inspired team building, team members have the opportunity to develop and hone their leadership skills. 

As team members collaborate and support one another, they gain valuable experience in effective communication, decision-making, and conflict resolution – all essential components of strong leadership.

By integrating the Bayanihan spirit into team-building programs, organizations can reap numerous benefits that ultimately lead to stronger, more cohesive teams. This unique approach, rooted in Filipino values and culture, offers a powerful foundation for enhancing collaboration and unity when you do team building in the Philippines.

Tips for Organizing a Bayanihan-Inspired Team Building Event

To create an authentic Bayanihan-inspired team-building event, select a location that reflects the beauty and richness of the Philippines.

 Choose activities that align with your organization’s goals, and collaborate with local experts to ensure cultural authenticity. 

Finally, establish a follow-up plan to sustain the positive effects of the team-building experience.

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Conclusion

In writing this article, I was hoping to encourage Filipino managers to consider infusing Filipino values like bayanihan in their team building initiatives.

I was also hoping to inspire other team-building facilitators to go beyond the typical team-building activities like Toxic Waste, Spider Web, and Trust Fall. 

I know that there are Western-inspired games that are worth doing again and again. But you will be surprised how easy it is to make people understand the power of teamwork when you start with their deeply held beliefs.

Team building isn’t about feeding teams with new ideas. To me, it is about bringing out the best in them. 

Bayanihan brings out the best in us.

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