How Iditarod Can Help You Create a Winning Team

Part of what makes the great Iditarod race such an inspirational feat is the level of teamwork necessary at every step.

What looks like a bunch of dogs all doing the same job is actually a multi-faceted team—trained, orchestrated, and equipped by their musher.

A full team is made up of 16 dogs, running in 4 different positions. Every dog has a particular strength, and every musher knows exactly which dogs will play each position best.

It takes the same analysis and social understanding to create a winning team in the workplace!

Let’s look at each pack member in detail and how their strengths translate to your team. Keep in mind which of your own members would thrive in each position.

Who Are Your Lead Dogs?

Lead dogs know their way on the trail without being watched, and you can trust them to make decisions guiding others on the team.

Lead dogs are smart, possess initiative, common sense, and the ability to perform even in less-than-ideal conditions.

How can you tell which of your team members will execute well as a Lead?

Some will take that initiative pretty early. But sometimes you take a leap of faith on an untested pack member— and they surprise you

Let the Leads get to know your heart, and keep them close. Learn to develop a mutual intuition, and give them access where the rest of the team might not have.

Watch for their health so you don’t have to replace them. Make sure their “paws” are in good shape—in other words, make sure they are free to run without anything hindering their running with full potential.

Stay Prepared with Swing Dogs

The best teams have members who can operate in other positions. The Lead can be a burdensome place that wears, wearies, and stresses.

So it’s natural for mushers to have their ‘leaders in waiting’ to run in the next position—which is Swing. These dogs have to be leaders in their own right, and for many, becoming that Lead dog is the next natural step.

Swing dogs are directly behind the leader, understanding the leader’s moves and translating that to the rest of the team.

They ‘swing’ the rest of the team behind them in turns or curves on the trail. They protect the Lead dogs from attempting a turn—only to find the rest of the team choosing not to follow!

They are crucial to making sure everyone makes the journey and stays in sync.

Pro tip: When Swing dogs are able to rotate with the Leads, both sets will remain fresh and the results will show.

The Powerhouses: Your Team Dogs

Not everyone on your team will be a Lead dog. In fact, if you had a pack full of them, your mission would probably fail. Chaos would ensue with everyone trying to lead.

That’s why, settled in the middle, are Team dogs.

They don’t have to be concerned with the stress of leading, and the sled is a comfortable distance behind them. They are free to simply pull with power and run.

These pack members make up the momentum and pull as you need to get the race done. To get the project finished. To keep going towards the prize.

Most of your Team dogs will never be Lead, and they are fine with that. But you know what? If we didn’t have them, we couldn’t do what we do. They are vital to every pack—and every business.

We should accept that the race is not their life—and let them run from 8 to 5 as hard as they can, then clock out and leave it all.

Steady the Sled with Wheel Dogs

Wheel dogs run at the back of the pack, but are important for the steadying element they bring the entire team.

It takes a calm and even temperament to run close to the jolting, unpredictable sled.

These dogs know how to pull with power and steadiness to maneuver the sled around turns and rough bumps. (Not all dogs can handle it, nor should they.)

The “sled” is not always pretty—things like cash flow and layoffs and contingency planning. There are things in your business that not every pack member needs to see and will scare some off.

Which people do you allow close to the sled of business?

Team dogs need to run unhindered from the burdens of the sled. But remember, even Wheel dogs that are closest to the sled are still not on the sled itself.

Though Wheel dogs are seasoned confidantes, people you count on to help you turn the business, they’re not meant to be pack mules for your emotional burdens.

Keep an eye on those boundaries, establish outside sources of emotional care and support, and you’ll keep the Wheel runners—as well as the team as a whole—healthy.

Create Your Racing Team

Of course, your people aren’t actual racing dogs. And you probably don’t wake up every morning, tie on your fur hat, and climb into a wooden sled.

But it’s still true that how well your team performs is in direct proportion to how well you know your people and put them in the right spot on the team.

All positions are necessary. Knowing which ones your team members naturally play and allowing them to run there not only increases their satisfaction, but can lead to better team performance in the long run.

Building the perfect team is rarely a sprint—more like an adventure of endurance that is wildly rewarding to those who take the time to learn and truly prepare.

As always, if I can help you maximize your team’s unique talent, drop me a note using the form below.

How the best develop their people for results…

As an Organizational Effectiveness consultant, I look to add PROVEN value to customers every day.  My value proposition – or where I add the most value –  is in developing the people in organizations with a purposeful intent to increase their performance and bottom-line results.

As for the bottom-line, here it is:

Being the best takes a concerted effort from an intentional team.  An effort that embeds and involves L&D (Learning and  Development)  deep into the organizations CULTURE.

According to ASTD (American Society for Training & Development), the BEST are bench-marked by:

L&D has an enterprise-wide role.

L&D professionals are not just Lackeys holding NEO (New Employee Orientation) classes.  They are savvy business partners that are involved in the executive team, they understand and create solutions to business issues and are vital in setting organizational strategy.

• Learning has value in the organization’s CULTURE

Again, the Culture (Language, Beliefs, and Behaviors) embraces learning opportunities for employees and Leadership, alike.  These organizations don;t just talk the culture – they walk the culture – they back up their language with BEHAVIORS because of their belief that L&D can and will make a difference.  It exists, purposefully, for
the growth of the organization, and helps drive innovation.

The commitment extends to the heights of C-level involvement.  Learning is not something that is done at the lower levels.  As many of you have heard me say, “They are Growing Leaders, Growing Leaders!”

L&D is directly linked to individual and organizational performance

The BEST realize that in order for the organization to achieve the desired level of sustained performance, L&D must be aligned with the business performance goals  and the measurement of the effectiveness of learning it that it must help drive personal/organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

Investment is made in learning and performance initiatives

Again, Culture is not about language only – it’s not all talk!  You can tell the BEST because they put their money where their mouth is – they fund L&D – they make a strategic investment!

Investment, by it’s nature expects a return.  L&D professional cannot expect an endless stream of funding without some level of increase in individual/organizational performance.  On the other hand, Leaders need to understand that behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight.  As with most strategic initiatives, the return will take some time to play out.

In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania (1995 Richard Zemsky).  It was discovered that a 10% investment in PPE (Property, Plant, & Equipment) companies realized a 3.8% increase in productivity whereas that same 10% invested into People Development yielded an 8.6% increase in productivity.

On average, the BEST according to ASTD re-invest

• About 0.7% of Revenue, or
• Approx. 10.88% of Profit, or
• Roughly 2.15% of Payroll, or
• $1081 per employee

How about your organization?

Is it’s mantra, “Growing Leaders, Growing Leaders…”?

Is the Learning tied to performance enhancement?

How does it’s investment bench-mark against the BEST?

Leaders must be willing to be perpetual learners – if their leadership is to be sustained.

I have found that I am the happiest – and by that I mean the most internally satisfied with my adventure or what I’m calling my Iditarod Leadership adventure– when I am learning and growing – when I am stretching to learn something new or achieve something new – in an area of my passion. My passions are going to revolve around my adventures in leadership, sales, speaking, or something that involves helping people reach their potential. I love to read snippets or to listen to podcasts or audio books about new and fresh ideas around these areas. New growth always generates energy. It generates it in plants, trees, and when I choose to grow – choose to learn new things – to stretch – it generates tremendous energy and satisfaction in me.

On the trail – as the winter snow melts away – new life emerges – new spring vegetation. The race has been over for a number of weeks now and the mushers are already creating new plans and new growth opportunities for themselves and their teams.

Why do the same old things, year after year? Let the hunger for growth start – fuel the fire of passion for your life and business – ask yourself, with me today – where can I grow? Choose with me today – to find something to read – something to hear – something to learn – somewhere to grow.

Mush to your great adventure!