28 Jul 2011

Lesson 5 – Team Development Lessons Taught By My Dog

Lesson 5. Consistency is crucial to trust and understanding.

As you may have gathered with previous posts, having Jake in our house has been a learning experience. One of the greatest areas of learning has been in the art of consistency across all members of the family. Like most dog owners, we wanted Jake to be able to sit on command; when he is on the lead and at the side of the road, before receiving his meal etc.

What we noticed very quickly was that while I was clear on the command and the way I was teaching this step to Jake, so were the other 3 members of my family. The problem was that each of our methods of teaching Jake to sit were slightly different. This caused confusion for Jake, and he became unsure of what to do when.

This also became a problem when we wanted Jake to sit before we cross the road. Did we want him to do it at every road? Just before busy roads? Only with the children? Clearly Jake wasn’t going to be able to read our minds and work out what we wanted, so we had to be clear and work out the standard we wanted as a family and then make sure that the way that we demonstrate this to Jake is consistent.

Team members within our workplace require the same type of consistency. One of the key traits of a high performing team is their ability to trust one another. Trust is a big concept that means many things to many people, but in this case I will use a very literal definition: Trust is built by doing what you say you are going to do.

High performing teams trust in each other’s abilities and the consistency that comes with knowing what the other person will do. I work with many different teams from many different industries that are seeking to become better at what they do, and trust is the most consistent and crucial factor that is discussed again and again as missing from their teams.

To build trust, you have to make it very clear what you want in certain situations and what is expected of others.

For Jake, we have some constants:

1.         Before receiving food, you have to sit.

2.         At the side of the road, you have to sit and I have to stop and look before crossing.

3.         If we are heading for the park, you have to sit before I will take the lead off.

 

For my team, I have some similar consistent behaviours:

1.         If you are late to work by 5 minutes, I won’t be annoyed – traffic happens.

2.         If you are late for a meeting (particularly with clients), I will be very annoyed. Call me ahead of time to advise me of problems.

3.         If I have asked for a report by Friday, I will be very annoyed if on Monday you tell me it hasn’t been done. Tell me on Thursday, and we can work together.

 

These are just three points – I have a very long list! When a new member joins my team, I make a point of very being clear in what I expect the people in that team to do. I provide them with my list and discuss the points within them; this is how you get the best out of me. I also encourage them to do the same – how can I get the best out of you?

An easy way to start is to observe your team and your interactions for a week. When someone does something that you love in a team environment, put it on your ‘good’ list. When something bugs or annoys you, put it on your ‘bad’ list. You will be surprised how quickly the list builds!

Working out what you like and don’t like and discussing it with your team is a bit like providing your team with an instruction manual on how to get the best out of you. Imagine if you knew on Day 1 at a new business what the key ‘touch’ points were for your new boss? How much easier would it be?

Knowing how you will react and what you expect makes life much simpler for your team and builds trust quickly, particularly when your actions match what you have said.

How consistent are you with your team? Does your team know what you like and don’t like? Is the response they get from you consistent? What ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ are part of your instruction manual? Does your team know them?