Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Adapting for Team Success

I really love dog agility. Working with Bailey, my Sheltie, to navigate a challenging course is exhilarating but it also provides me with many management lessons. Today’s lesson turned out to be working with team members.

In my agility class there are six people and a total of eight dogs (some lucky people get to run more than one dog). Although we each run the same course, to be effective, we must manage our dogs differently. Some dogs run like the wind. They are very driven and need no help to enthusiastically attack the course. However, they do need help in getting to the right obstacles and moving as efficiently as possible over those obstacles. For these trainers distance skills are important as well as being able to time small movements of hands and feet in one direction or another to cue the dog for a turn. I call these types of dogs Ferraris because of their speed and precision.

Other dogs are slower and more deliberate. Owners can easily keep pace with the dog but since agility is judged by clearing obstacles in a given time, these owners must be with their dog to pump up enthusiasm as dog traverses the course using the least amount of steps possible. Here we are talking the family cars of the canine world.

While the handler might have personal preferences about running a course, the best handlers run the dogs in ways that maximizes each dog’s strengths whether that is speed, attention to obstacles, or steadiness. In my experience, good project managers have to do that as well.

Project managers cannot lead everyone in the same way in every situation and expect great results. Some project team members may be free spirits that like to run like the wind. With clear directions and cues, they are very content to run the course of the project without the manager being right there. Yet the project manager needs to pay attention and provide good cues for course corrections. Some people are more comfortable with more feedback and a closer contact with the manager. They may need more reinforcement to go along with directions. In either case, it is up to the manager to adapt his/her approach to meet the needs of project team members.

Dogs and humans like to be successful. With attention and adaptation, we can ensure that our team members run the best course for success.

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