Teamwork

Working on a Team

What makes a great team? Senior consultant Julie Gibbs gives us some tips from none other than her dog.

by Julie Gibbs

Picture this:

It’s the weekend. You wake up early on a Saturday after a relaxing Friday evening. Your dog is snuggled by your side. You take a deep breath, stretch, and think to yourself, “Today’s the day.  I’m going for a 15-mile hike.” 

You say, “Ready to go, Dog?”

I realize that I’ve likely lost most of you just in those first few lines.  Who wakes up and thinks that?! But I recently DID wake up and think this. I’d been training for an endurance event, so it was a planned Saturday morning 15-mile hike in Shenandoah State Park. While long, it was obtainable. And Dog was coming with me because, well, it’s REALLY hard to sell a hike that long to a fellow human, and I wasn’t going it alone.

Dog is also trained for this sort of thing. She’s familiar with running and hiking trails and because she often leads on tethered charge, she knows her directions. Literal directions.

“LEFT!”

Dog turns left.

“RIGHT!”

Dog turns right.

“HOLD!”

Dog stops in her tracks.

Julie's Dog

It’s pretty awesome and incredibly helpful on the trails. She’s a great teammate and I wouldn’t trade her. She even occasionally looks over her shoulder to check on me.

“Yep, I’m still here, Dog. I’m ok”

On this particular hike, Dog was out front as usual. I was following her lead and course correcting as needed. It was a long hike and a really long day. I had anticipated 7 hours, hoped it would be 6 hours, and ultimately it ended up being 8.

Around mile 11, Dog was starting to get tired. I felt bad for getting her into this “middle of the woods” situation where the only way out was to walk additional miles. I felt so bad in fact, that I attempted to carry the 45 lbs of Dog. That lasted only about 50 yards.

Near mile 12, thunder started rumbling and I could tell a storm was coming. But Dog had had enough. She needed a decent break. I was tired too, but I knew we needed to keep pushing and stay ahead of the storm. Dog ate the last package of tuna and rested by a stream for a few minutes while I chugged water. Once we started going again, Dog was looking to me for direction. She needed help getting back on course.

“You got this, Dog. Good girl. Keep it up.”

Each time I provided Dog positive reinforcement, she visibly had an extra bounce in her step.  As tired as she was, as she heard me verbalize, “Yeah, Dog! Get it, girl!” she went just a little bit faster and held her head just a little bit higher.

Seeing this each time made me smile too, so in turn, I lifted my head a little higher as well. It’s almost like in saying it to her, I was saying it to myself too.

“You got this, Jules. Keep going!”

We made it back to the car 10 minutes ahead of the storm, and it’s because Dog and I make a great team. While I might lead our little duo, I also know that she’s strong enough and has the skills needed to keep us on the correct path. A few times I visually lost our trail, but she was able to find it and kept us moving in the right direction.

So how can you build a great team of your own?

Surround yourself with people smarter than you.

As Dog’s leader, I was there for her when she needed to check-in, but I also knew that she had the skills to lead us. And I let her lead us because I am confident that she is skilled in ways that I am not.

Your team; not your burden.

As a leader it’s important to be able to provide support and understand when your team is looking for direction, but it’s not your responsibility to carry the burden of the entire team. I so badly wanted to carry Dog around mile 11; however, this wasn’t feasible.

Reflect, evaluate, and adjust.

ALL THE TIME. Our timeline changed on the hike; it’s ok. We maybe went the wrong way for a half mile, then backtracked; it’s ok. Dog ate the last packet of tuna; it’s ok. The ability to pause, step back, and adapt to always changing situations has saved my sanity more times than I can count!

Provide positive feedback.

Whether a team leader or a team member, a little bit of positive feedback goes a long way. It’s very easy to get caught up in what isn’t working and the “bad” stuff. Train yourself to speak positively. My positive encouragement to Dog, resulted in a positive physical reaction from her, which resulted in a positive response from me.  The ripple effect of positive energy is amazing.  

Julie Gibbs
Julie Gibbs
Senior Consultant
Contact Julie

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