Up until yesterday, I thought of rhythmic gymnastics as that weird event with the ribbons–basically, the Summer Olympics’ equivalent to curling in the Winter Olympics. But watching yesterday, I was blown away. They weren’t just flipping ribbons around in a pretty way–they did amazingly complicated choreography using balls and hoops and yes, ribbons. Because in the team event they can’t hold onto the apparatus for more than a few seconds, they are constantly swapping things with each other. It requires nothing short of perfect teamwork.
Sure, to make it work you have to be a spectacular athlete in your own right, or you simply can’t carry out the complex, challenging motions. But the only way to win this event is to do exactly what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it in the way you’re supposed to do it. The amount of discipline and control is phenomenal, and yet when you watch them out there it is graceful and gorgeous. Somehow, one throws a ball 30 feet in the air and leaps (gracefully) to the other side of the room to catch the ball that someone else threw while a third person is catching their ball. They use their bodies and their equipment to make intricate patterns and shapes, and it is all simply perfectly executed. I have to assume there are many many hours of rehearsal time in the years leading up to the Olympics where balls are dropped and tempers get ugly, but none of that was on display when it came down to it.
I can’t help thinking that it makes a fantastic example to look at for the teamwork that the library, or any other nonprofit organization, needs. You need people to be really good at what they do, with polished skills and a lot of presence and self-control. But you also need them to care as passionately about the work that is being carried out by the group as they care about their own work.
It all comes down to cooperation. And of course you can’t have great cooperation without great communication. It’s not enough for you to send your ribbon spiraling through the air because the person who’s supposed to do something with the ribbon needs to know it’s coming and what they’re supposed to do with it.
Maybe it’s kind of a cheesy metaphor, but I like it. I will continue playing with the idea that somehow we can all get so focused on a common mission that we can take some chances, work together, and get so good at it that we delight our patrons with the work that we do.