Cowboys make the best team leaders. It’s no wonder that they’ve always been natural cultural heroes! Come journey with me over the next few months to discover how I found out what great team-builders cowboys make.
An Irresistible Invitation
In March of 2017, I found myself hauling my two mustangs in my brand-spanking new 25-foot living quarters trailer for almost 10-hours to a portion of The Great Basin on the outer edges of Nevada. I was lured by the invitation of Mike Bridges who has been my horsemanship teacher for 11-years. He was conducting a 15- day working ranch clinic at his son’s 5,000-acre cattle operation. (This is what might be loosely referred to in the corporate world as an “offsite.”) I knew this invitation to be ‘out on the range’ was going to be way out of my ordinary riding environment and way out of my comfort zone. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to further develop my skills as a rider as well as my confidence.
Treated As An Equal
I was the only girl in an otherwise male cadre of other advanced students of Mike’s and real cowboys who do this kind of out-on-the-range work for a living. Everyone except me had been here before and knew what lay ahead.
Even though I was the only girl – and a novice – getting ready to go for two-weeks of cattle herding, what I noticed immediately was that I wasn’t treated any differently than anyone else. I was included in all the conversations, apprised of the tasks at hand, the requirements, the precautions. It was expected that I would need to step up and step into whatever was needed for the job at hand, once that job was explained to me. No one referred to me or treated me as new, and at the same time I was directed to what I could bite off and chew.
This congruency (what the boss said, and what the boss did, matched every time) and built immediate trust. In the course of 20-minutes after meeting everyone, we were ALL ready to give it our all.
Trust Is The Essential Foundation Of Any Teamwork
Whether you are building a sports team, a family, a corporation, or getting ready to herd 300 head of cattle, trust is essential. In fact the absence of trust is typically what destroys companies, as well as all relationships personal and professional. In my work with horses and humans, distrust is what causes a horse to pull away from a human. Congruency of feeling/interior emotion and actual words can be felt by all creatures great and small.
The first disfunction in any organization be it a family, church, team or business is an absence of trust among members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.
Mike established an environment of trust immediately. Everyone was treated as an equal. Every expectation was laid out clearly. No questions were left unanswered. No one was left out. We were all accountable for our actions. It was a great way to begin a journey that had the potential to turn dangerous, if not deadly. Everyone trusted each other to keep their minds and hearts on the collective goal.
To be continued…
I know, I know, it sounds like a lot. But don’t worry. I’m going to break it down into small bite-sized pieces for you to digest over the next couple of months. Together, we’re going on a cattle herding experience, where the teachings of a corporate fable will come to light along with lessons about the five aspects of team dysfunction. You’ll probably learn a few things about cattle herding along the way that you never thought you needed to know. And you’ll also see how the basics of what makes a team highly effective are integral aspects whether you’re out-on-the-range, in a corporation or a personal relationship.
Before we set off on the journey, let me lay the groundwork based on a corporate fable written by Patrick Lencioni entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. For starters, whether your ‘team’ is a family, a civic or church group, a small business, a large corporate division or an international corporation, trust is the very foundation to success. That points to absence of trust as the eroding factor at the heart of every dysfunctional team.
Without trust, no member of the team will feel safe. In an environment without a foundation of trust, it’s every man, woman or child for himself. Team members feel like no one has their back. They don’t understand and cannot open up to each other. Trust is the single most critical part of building any team.
Stemming from lack of trust, an ineffective team displays inattention to results. Every team has a goal. It is a collective, not a personal goal. In an environment of mistrust, the tendency is for individuals to clamor for individual attention. But, when a team is trusting and focused on a collective goal, if the team loses, everyone loses. When the team wins, everyone wins.
The next identifying factor in an environment of distrust is the fear of conflict. It’s impossible to have open, construction, ideological discussions and arguments when people don’t trust each other. People don’t express their honest concerns and opinions. In this kind of environment there is also a huge tendency toward the avoidance of accountability. In a nutshell you’ll see finger-pointing and blame, but no true accountability from the top down.
With these thoughts in mind, the journey can begin. You can get started by reading this month’s article entitled, Saddle Up For A Series Of Team-building Lessons Learned From Cowboys.