By Dan Stockdale
Have you ever felt like a tiger tamer without your whip and chair when you’re in a meeting that has degenerated into chaos? Most team breakdowns happen because of a lack of communication; the team members are simply not listening to or respecting each other.
Team leaders and participants can learn how to achieve team harmony from professional animal trainers. Try these proven methods to improve teamwork and increase productivity:
Remain calm. When you’re dealing with large animals like a 300-pound tiger, you must stay relaxed and composed, no matter how the animal behaves toward you. Showing your nerves can cost you your life. In business, you risk your job, or possibly even the whole company, if you lose your cool. At the very least, you risk losing control of the meeting and losing the respect of peers and superiors.
Take immediate steps to restore order by restructuring scheduling and taking steps to strengthen communication. First, remind the group of the reasons they were brought together. Then, keep the group focused while acknowledging and respecting whatever has driven the team off-course. Calmly and quietly say, “I understand XYZ is a significant issue, and we will be sure to address XYZ later in the meeting. Let’s finish talking about ABC right now so we can get to XYZ as soon as possible.”
Maintain routine. Tigers, like people, love consistency; they eat, sleep, play and learn at generally the same times every day. Like animals, we are creatures of habit and simply function better when we can anticipate what’s next. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it makes us feel safe, and if we’re in conflict with our team members, routine will comfort and calm us.
Establish proper protocols from the project’s or meeting’s beginning and follow them so that everyone’s expectations are the same, and each individual knows what his or her role is on the team. Ensure that lines of communication within the team are clear and implement back-up systems as necessary to ensure that routine can be followed to the greatest extent possible.
Be patient. Animal trainers recognize that each animal learns at its own pace; some catch on extremely quickly while others learn more slowly.
On your human team, you must allow enough time to accomplish the business at hand without rushing slower team members. The team will be more effective with sufficient time to accomplish the work, and you will achieve more buy-in from all members. Because they all have their areas of expertise, individual team members will also have their own issues that need to be addressed. Be indulgent and let team members take the time they need to effectively present their concerns.
Also, remember to exercise your own patience with the team and require all team members to exercise patience with each other during the process.
Anticipate and plan. Trainers know they must stay one step ahead of their tigers. When working with large, dangerous animals, trainers always have an escape plan in mind that will protect them by removing them from the work area. They know always to keep the worst-case scenario of a possible attack in mind and to have an escape plan at the ready.
Keeping in mind all possibilities of what could happen is key when you’re working with your team. Anticipate as much as possible what roadblocks might arise. Given the issues you’re working on, what things are likely to happen?
Respect personal issues. Male tigers, especially, are territorial and may not necessarily like to be near each other. And if they’re having a particularly bad day, the trainer can tell and will probably choose another time to work with them. Exotic animal trainers must respect the tigers’ personal issues about territory and space, and you should do the same thing with a team.
Respect all team members for what they bring to the table, as this understanding will keep the atmosphere of the meeting less negative and aggressive. The team members must simply agree not to get in each other’s faces!
Behavior breeds behavior. If a trainer were foolish enough to be aggressive toward an animal, the animal may respond aggressively toward the trainer. Likewise, within a team, the way you approach someone determines how he or she reacts to you and how that person approaches you in return. Be aware of your behavior, tone of voice and any latent hostility or other issues that might influence others’ behavior negatively. Whatever behavior and attitude you put out there will very likely be the type of reaction you get back from your teammates in response. Approach one another with a professional attitude.
If you try all of these techniques and share them with other team members, chances are good that your group will be more productive and effective, and, therefore, generally happier. But what if you feel you’re doing everything “right,” and the team still refuses to work together or follow these tips?
Depending on the situation and how far off track it is, if a single individual is keeping the team from performing, eliminating him or her from the team could do the trick, and the remaining team can get on with the work at hand. By implementing these team-building tips in your organization, you’ll quickly find that your group accomplishes more in less time, thus showing a positive contribution to your company’s bottom line.
About The Author(s)
Dan Stockdale is president of Adventures In Leadership, Inc., an educational firm that specializes in applying the principles of positive reinforcement to organizations. He is also an exotic animal trainer. For more information, visit: www.danstockdale.com or call (800) 640-TIGER.