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A rescued kitten and lessons about Team Work.

Welcome to my first blog post. As an 80’s baby, blogging became this massive thing in the 90’s and 2000’s and I never got on the bandwagon.

So now that I’m out there in the big world on my own, I guess it’s time to get even more uncomfortable right?

My blog posts don’t have the pretention to be gospel on the topics they cover. They are just based of my own experience, and hopefully can give you a little bit of insight.

So, what does the rescue of a small kitten can teach us about Team Work?

Here goes.

Sunday afternoon. The weather isn’t great, it’s raining a bit, it’s a bit too cold for my liking for a November day. I am walking my dog Jade in the forest that’s just behind my house. Jade loves it there because there are always a lot of bunnies hopping around.

However today, I hear a different noise. I’m used to the birdlife here and I can’t recognize the cry. That’s because it’s not a bird noise.

It’s a meow. That comes out of the tiniest little black kitten, that is clearly lost, clearly terrified, cold and wet. Judging by where it is and how loud it is, I’m guessing it got separated from its mum, got lost, and is now screaming for help.

As an animal lover, I don’t hesitate, and I go towards it. That was without counting on my dog. Who hates cats with a passion. She lunges, tries to get to it. So I’m wrestling the dog to stop her from hurting it, and low and behold, kitty knows better and takes off. I restrain the dog, try to look for the kitten, but it’s gone and probably knows better than to come out.

I’m devastated, I’m worried about the kitten, I don’t give it much chance out there on its own. I get on with my walk to calm the dog down, double back on where I found the kitten in the first place about 1h later. Nothing. It’s not there.

I decide to post some photos on my Facebook community page. These are very handy for finding out local businesses, or getting some sugar when you miss some for your Sunday baking. Anyways, I post some photos of the bush I saw the kitten in, explain where it is, and tell people that if they happen to be walking that way, they should try and get the kitten. Now remember it’s a wet day, so I’m not expecting much to come out of it and I make plans to come back on Monday to try and find it.

Within 3 hours of me posting this on the community group, the kitten has been found, and the family that found it is thinking about keeping it. What I also find out after reading the comments and various posts on the group, is that entire FAMILIES went out that way ON PURPOSE to try and find the kitten. Literally driving there to find the cat.

I am of course relieved for it, but also gobsmacked.

So I asked myself: what lesson can we learn from today? Apart from the fact that I’m jealous I didn’t get kitty cuddles of course.

In my opinion, “team work makes the dream work” is a bit overrated. One, I don’t like pre-made catchphrases like that. Everybody uses them and it loses their meaning.

What are the components of “team work”? And what is the “dream work” that needs to be achieved?

I have worked in a variety of teams, small and big, and the dynamics are always different. Particularly with today’s challenges, whether it’s pandemic related or not, the relationships are more complex and therefore lead to different results. It’s not just about liking the person you are working next to (although it helps). According to studies (link below), “enabling conditions” are key to the success of any given team. Strong leadership for example is a key element : would the All Blacks keep winning as they do if they didn’t have a strong coach and captain? A supportive structure is also an element of success: if your team feels empowered, supported, and enabled, you’re already halfway there.

However, what I want to focus on today is for me one of the most critical elements of team work, and that’s our allegoric kitten: the common goal.

If you have a sports team, common goal will be winning the game. If you are a software development company, the common goal might be to deliver quality software for your client. Whatever this goal is, it is the train tracks your team is riding on. To be inspired to work and surpass themselves (like going out in the rain to get a kitten), teams must know what they are working towards, and be on board with it. Communication is therefore key, from the top down but also sideways, in whatever way shape or form (Slack, Stand-ups, reviews, Teams ….).

The goal must be challenging to avoid boredom and complacency (“let’s go and find the kitten that’s hiding, but we know roughly where it’s hiding”), but must also be achievable. Who has been set unachievable targets before? *raise hand*. These are the best way to disengage your team. Same goes with extended targets (as in “you’ll get a kitten in 5 years time if you keep doing this”). As we know, so much can happen so quickly that goals are more rewarding if they are close in time (“let’s get the kitten this afternoon”).

People see reward differently: money, praise, promotion, job satisfaction. This belongs to the individuals in the team that will then see their cup filled differently, and it falls back on the team leader to then reward individuals appropriately (“you can cuddle the kitten” vs “you can keep the kitten” vs “you know the kitten has been found and is safe”). The link here is this common goal (“rescue the kitten”).

In my opinion, the belief in this common goal is the key to the success of the team. This goal must be communicated clearly, updated as goes, and most importantly feedback must be gathered regularly to ensure that the goal is not only understood but still shared. External and internal factors can come and disrupt this common goal which can then lead to a shift of engagement from the team (change in personal situation, sickness, holidays ….). So never assume that everybody understands or is working towards that common goal because “that’s what the goal is”. Set clear expectations, check in with the team, and go get that kitten.

In my opinion, the belief in this common goal is the key to the success of the team. This goal must be communicated clearly, updated as goes, and most importantly feedback must be gathered regularly to ensure that the goal is not only understood but still shared. External and internal factors can come and disrupt this common goal which can then lead to a shift of engagement from the team (change in personal situation, sickness, holidays ….). So never assume that everybody understands or is working towards that common goal because “that’s what the goal is”. Set clear expectations, check in with the team, and go get that kitten.

Link: https://hbr.org/2016/06/the-secrets-of-great-teamwork

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