Lessons From the Sled Dogs: It’s All About Getting the Right Team

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About a year ago, I went dog sledding in Canmore, Alberta in Canada. It was great.

And ever since then, when I have a discussion with an executive about their organization, I think back to this experience.

I’ve said this before, there is no more important thing you can do as a business leader than to build the right team.

When you get the right people (who are strategic enough) in the right roles, then you can finally step up personally — and you can all move the business forward.

I’ve written more about this in People don’t become more strategic and in People like to be amazing.

It’s great when it happens

As a business leader, I can remember the feeling so clearly at the moment when I got the right team in place. It was amazing. My level of worry was greatly reduced, and the quality of what I could do with my time went through the roof — a combination of relief and excitement.

We could move forward. Actually it was more like, we couldn’t NOT move forward.

The team was ready and raring to go.

I’ll admit, making changes to the team was never easy to do. There was always angst and controversy and risk in getting there. But it was always worth it.

Poor performance is contagious. But even OK performance if often not enough to get the business where it needs to go.

If you have leaders who are not stepping up and not pulling their weight, you will get thrown off track over and over again as you do things to compensate.

You tell yourself that accommodating the weakness is less messy than making a change, but the problem is that it stays messy forever. The change is messy for a short time, but then it’s over — and you get a huge benefit.

Here’s where the dogs come in

Up in Canada when I went dog sledding, at the beginning of the day there were 17 sled-dog teams lined up on the sides of the path and the dogs were mostly lying and lounging in the snow. But the dogs know their job and they love it.

When they perceived that the 30 minute briefing was ending, without any cue from “management,” they jumped up and pointed forward. They were loaded springs. They had such motivation and energy you could see and feel it.

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I had this strong feeling about how great that was. Every team member was was pointing forward and ready, willing, and anxious to GO forward.

Since then, I keep thinking: that’s the team you want in business. Every person pulling their weight in the same direction — ready, willing, and anxious to GO forward.

When you look at your team — all the ropes should be tight.

If someone is not pulling their weight, the ropes get tangled. It doesn’t work so well.

Do you need to make a change?

If you need to make a change, here is something I have learned and done which makes it easier.

You don’t always need to let people go. Instead think about getting them into a different job where they can thrive. I’ve done this, and in each case the person who was moved ended up happier.

Because after getting over the sting of being “moved,” they were in a job that was a much better fit, where they could be great again. And instead of struggling to be OK, they could make the rope tight.

I’ve also written about how to do this here: The ideal, blank-sheet org chart.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .


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