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The Blue Square – When the going gets tough, the tough communicate. 

Joe Tate | HR Consulting
Nov 13 2017

In this blog series, we are exploring four lessons/levels of teamwork.  These concepts were all discovered in a place named after a small tree, Little Cottonwood Canyon. Don’t be fooled by the moniker, Little Cottonwood Canyon is far from small or insignificant. Its beauty is unsurpassed and its lessons, remarkable. For over a decade I have been a mountain guide and instructor in these majestic mountains.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is a Temple for me, my Mecca, a place where memories, imagination, and TEAMS are born.  Take a trip with me through the four mountain safety signs from green circles to double-black diamonds; a quick trip to high performing teams, communication, and memories to last a lifetime.  Let’s slide into our next segment.

We return to my one day, six-hour lesson with Jake, Alice and Annalessa, my small but mighty team.  We have mastered the easy green terrain. Introductions have been made, we know our team, I have asked 20 questions of understanding and we are ready for the next level.

The Blue Square – When the going gets tough, the tough communicate.  Teams must stick together.  On the mountain rule #1 is to stay together; proximity is paramount.  When the group is together, they can better watch out for each other, respect each other, encourage each other, and learn from each other. In most instances, we do not have the luxury of picking our teams.  We are dealt a hand and we must do our best with that group.

The team must take the lessons from the easy green terrain and then they must, communicate, communicate, communicate.  As a leader, you must choose a variety of platforms to express your message.  I cannot express enough, the value of daily huddles.  In addition to quick daily meetings you must architect a way to communicate collectively and one on one.  Seek multiple opportunities to send your message – live and electronic.  True leaders have 4 or 5 regular methods to reach their teams.  These can include one on one meetings, impromptu stand-up meetings, skip levels, team huddles, email, text blasts, safety meetings, bulletin boards, musical relief and, of course, food.  Food alone is reason to meet and to talk; food will bring your team together.

On the mountain, this model is amplified.  As the guide, I huddle up with my team multiple times every hour.  We discuss feelings, physical sensations, snow conditions, visibility, equipment, timing, reactions, and speed.  In addition, the chairlift allows me to break down communication into smaller groups. I utilize the chairlift for bonding, review, playfulness, and fun.

In the workplace, each of us has the responsibility to stay in close contact with our teams and our peers.  If you are the leader, can they see you? Can they hear your voice?  Are you managing your team from afar?  Is your office too far from the team? Move it!  Do you disappear into your office and never see the light of day? Think about this.  Studies has proven that being in a work area within 40 feet of your team will increase your overall team communication by 400%. To build a strong team you need to huddle up more often.  Daily huddles or stand-up meetings will open and initiate dialogue and will increase your ability to solve problems. At times, production must stop in order to bring people together, a three-minute meeting can relieve stress and can help employees reset during the day. The lost production time will be regained.

One on One Meetings

Think about your next one on one meeting.  If you are not having one on one meetings with your direct reports, start today.  Calendar the event and reach out to your team.  Consider a walking meeting with one or more employees to inspire creative thinking and actions.

Common events will bring you together.  On the mountain, it is my role to create challenges and memories for the whole team. We’re all in this together. We believe we are the best team on the mountain, we are striving for MORE.  More fun, more turns, more excitement, more energy.  My groups start the day with a team cheer.  It’s corny, it’s hokey, but it’s fun and it works! If they lack the necessary energy, we start over, louder!  For example, often we use the ‘Hip Hip Hooray’ cheer!  We do it three times in a row, each time is louder and stronger. I lead the group by yelling ‘Hip Hip’ and the team returns the chant, “Hooray!”  Young or old, there is something magical about people shouting out in unison.  These cheers bring our team together raising the excitement and engagement.  The team cheer is used throughout the day to recognize solo performance and milestones.

I remember Alice gaining the courage to try her first jump. We found a spot and one by one after me the team approached the small mogul with caution, we each glided up, sprang with our legs and rose off the ground.  Alice was last.  With a concerned look on her face she followed our tracks.  Her speed increased and she lifted off.  1…  2… inches off the ground.  Her hands shot up in the air, a smile graced her lips and a strong, “YEEEAAAH!!”, escaped her mouth.  She made her way down to where the team had stopped and we all celebrated with Alice. She had done it!  Her first jump. I lead the team in a cheer for Alice.  We all celebrated her achievement and the valley echoed with ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray!’ ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray!’ ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray!’

Cementing the memories.

My brain is wired for music.  I remember vivid life events through music and I can map my history through an encyclopedia of rock n roll, blues, country, soul, jazz, metal, hip-hop, classical, and pop music.  One song can take me back to a specific day over 30 years ago. For this reason, I bring music into my teams.  On the mountain, we make up songs (okay I make up most of them) and we sing them together on the chairlift.  I’ve even had members of my team makes actions to the songs.  On this day, we sang an energetic march to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic; of course, we changed all the lyrics. This song of inspiration was entitled ‘I’d Rather Kiss a Rattlesnake than Drive a Minivan’.  I’ll send you the lyrics if you want to explore my distaste for minivans.  Text me at 801.837.8109 for the lyrics.  J  My point is this; the memories are cemented with the introduction of music. I submit to you that in 30 years my students will be singing these goofy little tunes on a chairlift in a blizzard.  Remember, people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel.

Do strategies like this work in the workplace?  They are simple, and they work! I have utilized these practices in a variety of ways.  I love Fridays.  As a team, we have celebrated the arrival of Friday with songs that share a Friday theme. Think ‘Rebecca Black – Friday’.  One of the world’s worst songs; but a celebration of Friday nonetheless.  We have also started a work-filled Wednesday morning with a cranked-up version of Bachman Turner Overdrive doing ‘Taking Care of Business’.   Or a simple game of “Name That Tune” (with prizes), can provide a needed respite.

All of us spend mountains of time at work.  As a manager, as a leader, you can bring your team together, you can navigate the blue days.  Help them on the “More Difficult” terrain while you are creating and sharing memories. Fun is only a moment away. Celebrating success and failure is vital. Daily communication can make all the difference. Remember, use music to change the tone of the day and create a memory.  Are you thinking about teamwork and are you championing the idea and the process?  – you must!

I’ll see you all next month on the black diamond blog.  Until then, pray for snow!     Joe

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