June 10, 2009 Chris Fuller

Sled Team Culture by Default or Design?

Sled Dogs will run with or without you! This is, exactly, why Rule #1 of mushing is, “Never Let Go of the Sled!”

The culture of an organization is the same way. Whether by Default or by Design – it will continue right on down the trail. As the musher – It’s Your Sled and Your Team. The choice we have as leaders is to either ‘Own’ the culture or ‘Abandon’ the culture and like the middle of the Iditarod race – there’s not a lot in between.

The culture of an organization, again, comes down to Integrating each player into an effective team and adapting, effectively, to the trail conditions (external environment) in order to survive. Over time as the team finds solutions to problems and experience ‘daily running’, they build up patterns of basic assumptions about how to operate and how to relate. These ‘Patterns’ or ‘Beliefs’ are then transmitted to each new team member as they are brought into the team. The ‘Patterns’ are created and recreated until they become engrained ‘Behaviors’ with deep seeded ties to the ‘History’ of the Team. The question is not if this will occur – the question is will it occur by Design, on purpose? And since they become deep seeded, I suggest taking hold of the Sled Handle and becoming purposeful.

As you start to ‘Design’ your team’s Culture, here are some thoughts. Start with the basics of:

  • Who we are.
  • What we do.
  • How we do.
  • How we interact. With ourselves. With others
  • How we measure success

This can start the process of development:

Who we are.

This is our organizational DNA and desired future DNA: Stories from the Trail (Organizational or departmental history), Values (stated and unstated) – our ‘Unique Team Genetic Code’ and the source for our Organizational Pride

What we do.

This is our offerings, our product, our ‘niche’ and can be similar to the production side of the Vision / Mission Statement. (ie, we make quality products for a fair price for the Widget industry)

How we do.

The How is important to Race Performance. Without clarity around ‘How’ the race is to be run then our people are left to make assumptions. This can be what my friend, Jeremie Kubicek, calls our ‘Secret Sauce’. It, also, sets the boundaries and the ‘Race Rules’ and acceptable and unacceptable performance methodologies. This area contains very specific, ‘Roles, Methods, Metrics’ and can be so innovative that it creates ‘Competitive Space’ allowing us to run on a clean trail, in clean air.

How we Interact.

Every team needs a ‘code of conduct’. Rules for interaction and communication both inside the team and to our customers, vendors, investors, public, etc. The components of how the dogs are treated are under constant scrutiny from Animal Rights activists and speaking from my experience, the musher’s deeply care for their dogs. In addition, they have rules for those that work with their dogs. But just as important are how the dogs will treat each other, other teams within our kennel, race officials, veterinarians, etc. Key pieces here Teamwork, communication, and employee relations!

How we measure success

This is so key to effective performance and to the ‘beliefs and behaviors’ of the group. Consistent communication around what we measure, how we measure, and constant reports from the trail relating to our performance and if we are ‘winning’ – whatever that means to us.

Like I said yesterday – we could easily spend a year or more on the topic – but we have more trail of our own to run today and so do you!

Run with purpose and ON purpose!

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