June 30, 2009 Chris Fuller

Team Health

Overcoming obstacles and facing down the storms is mission critical for successful teams. However, not all teams are successful and many are downright sickly. It is one of the musher’s top priorities to create and maintain a healthy team.

In Chapter 6 of IDITAROD LEADERSHIP, there is a female, professional musher(Lizzie) that is giving instruction to the novice mushers and going through a time of Q&A. The exchange picks up with Lizzie answering a question around team performance. She responds:

“Adjustments with me and/or my plan are going to relate to conditions on the trail such as bad weather, is the trail icy or snow covered, or even is there a lack of snow. In recent years, we’ve had a lack of snow in some parts of the trail. The condition of the team, also, impacts the strategy. Some dogs might be fighting illness, do I need to drop them? Are there dogs not pulling their weight or who are causing problems with the other dog? Is another competitor pushing me? If you have any of these conditions and you don’t evolve your plan of action, you won’t win. Pure and simple. In some cases, you may not even finish the race.

Now my interest was piqued(Michael thought) and so he asked, “So, wait a minute. Is it hard for you to drop a dog?”

Lizzie replied, “Make no mistake about it, I love my dogs. I’m committed to my team. But if a dog’s not performing or it’s in their best interest health-wise to drop them, I have to drop them. I’m not willing to sacrifice the rest of the team, or the race, for one dog. I have to make the hard decisions and it’s just a part of mushing.”

This exchange leads the discussion to Team health and it’s many different areas. Is it the team? Is it players within the team? Is it team dynamics? Does it relate to the Mental, Physical, or operational components of the team?

If your team pulled into a checkpoint and were, immediately, evaluated for their health – where would the negative reports come from? What would be positive?

Underperforming teams come in many shapes and sizes. If your team falls into this category – are you aware of the why? It may be easy to see the symptoms, easy to look at the numbers and tell the team they are not measuring up, but do we know why?

The position of the Musher (being behind the team) is an incredible place to monitor the health of the team. From their vantage point they should be able to discern, not only the effect, but the cause. Discernment becomes a key leadership competency.

Is the team lazy? Are the mentally fatigued? Are they undertrained or improperly trained to handle the conditions of the race you’re in today? Is the team in complete disarray? Are they resistant to your leadership? Or are they simply bored and lack purposeful motivation.

I would like you take some time to just consider you team – have you thought about their health? I know (or at least hope) you’ve looked at the performance numbers, but if the performance numbers are not where they are supposed to be – how do we trail back to the causes of the less than desired results?

This week we unpack the health of the team and work to increase your skills of discernment, care taker, veterinarian, and finally, performance coach. It’s going to be a great week.

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