Team mindfulness: putting Phil Jackson's "one breath, one mind" philosophy to the test

Zip lines. Escape rooms. Improv. Just three popular team building/team bonding activities. Another workplace bonding activity that not only reinforces cohesiveness and collaboration but may also reduce conflicts is team mindfulness.

Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson drew upon mindfulness to help create championship teams. “As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up... so we can focus... so we can be in concert with one another,” Jackson told Oprah in 2013 (Huffington Post). Jackson and his players know first-hand that mindfulness need not always be a solitary activity. And to make his oft-repeated quote relevant to a multitude of work environments, which it is, we can easily replace the part about pumping iron and running with any learned skill that enables us to perform our jobs. The “mental strength” needed to be in concert with one another is germane to any work or team environment.

According to research from the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, team conflict, as well as individual social undermining, can be reduced or eliminated with team mindfulness. Social undermining, a common manifestation of workplace bullying, is the expression of negative emotions directed towards a particular person or negative evaluations of the person as a way to prevent the person from achieving his or her goals. In the Sauder School study, researchers evaluated the results of three multi-wave field studies conducted in China and the U.S. They found that “team mindfulness” is a scientifically valid concept meaning that it is more than just an individual-level phenomenon (Yu & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2018). The authors also concluded that the findings of this study suggest that team mindfulness may hold the key to reducing team conflict and building a successful team  (Yu & Zellmer-Bruhn, 2018).

Writing for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s business analysis journal, Boston Consulting Group executives Christian Greiser and Jan-Philipp Martini share that incorporating mindfulness into daily work life, as software company SAP and health insurer Aetna do, is increasing well-being and higher creativity and reducing stress, in addition to helping to reduce conflict and fostering collaboration. They suggest that companies adopt small workshops to educate employees how to integrate mindfulness unobtrusively.

Greiser and Martini maintain that “organizations should invest in creating a culture in which meditation micro-practices are not just tolerated but are actively disseminated by mindfulness change agents.” These micro-practices are an effective complement to team mindfulness sessions like those offered by leading employers and espoused by Coach Jackson. The Levelhead platform, for example, provides a series of self-directed exercises, most just a few minutes long, employees can fit into daily activities, like brushing their teeth or driving to work, or tap into as needed throughout the workday.

One and done team bonding activities have their merits but consider the long-term, ongoing benefits of bringing mindfulness into the work sphere, as a team activity as well as an individual effort. Becoming more mindful enables us to begin regulating our own nervous systems, and eventually, develop new, more free and helpful ways of interacting. And that’s great all around, not just in the workplace.


Greiser, Christian and Martini, Jan-Philipp (2018). How Companies Can Instill Mindfulness, Knowledge@Wharton.

Phil Jackson On Using Meditation And Mindfulness To Create Great Basketball Teams (July 17, 2013). Huffington Post.

Yu, Lingtao and Zellmer-Bruhn, Mary (2018). Introducing Team Mindfulness and Considering its Safeguard Role Against Conflict Transformation and Social Undermining. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 61, No. 1, 324-347.


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