Basic Animal / Human Psychology
By Jim Kuiken
Talk about forte…this is mine! I’ve spent my entire adult life (and a lot of my younger life) serving in, building, or leading winning teams. The Marines. Law Enforcement. The corporate world. As a diplomat leading a big team in a huge effort in a war-torn country. Even in the Political arena.
And for the last 45 years, I keep hearing the same thing…how do you do it? How do you know all this stuff? Well, I could cite college degrees, training courses, etc., etc… (all true, but not where I got it all from – just where I learned some of the technical nuances). It came from lots of experience, and a basic understanding (and liking!) of people (and animals).
Previously, I’ve talked about Leadership, Service, basic and advanced techniques to achieve Success, Setting Goals, and many other similar subjects…mostly wrapped up into a neat list in one of my articles titled “Entrepreneur or Dreamer?”
But I’ve never specifically written about winning teams, which is a key element to almost anything we achieve in life. Unlike Leadership, which is done from the front (you can’t “lead” from behind, that’s an oxymoron – and in many cases, like combat – is called cowardice), you build winning teams from the middle.
So Kuiken, what is a winning team, and how do you build one? Again, back to my old southern law instructor…it depeyands…
Sometimes, depending on what your goal is – like the team itself “winning” whatever they are doing (like a T-Ball team or the SEALs…). Both have a goal of the team winning, so they need conditioning, structure, coaching, etc. But the basics are still there. They need to have a goal, they need to be structured in a way that helps them achieve that goal, they need the skills and tools required to be able to do what they need to do to win, they need “buy-in” by all the team members, etc.
Other times, it’s not about the team “winning”, it’s about the team being effective, building something, creating ideas or writing policy, running or managing an organization, or any other of a myriad of functions.
Simply put, a “winning team” is one that achieves or exceeds its goal.
One of the most primal examples would be that of a wolf-pack, cooperating together to feed the pack including the offspring, by not only working in a coordinated, joint effort to catch the food, but functioning in a structure to ensure orderly distribution of the food (a hierarchy of feeding, and bringing food back to those not yet old enough to hunt for themselves).
But people are much more than just a bunch of primitive animals, right? Of course they are – but understanding the most basic or advanced needs of people helps you build a winning team. I had observed behavior over the years in all those winning teams I was a part of, and had those observations validated (and gained more understanding of the motivations) through those college courses – one great example would be Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Pack animals show the same first 4 sets of needs (Physiological, Safety, Social belonging, and Esteem), but people functioning in a society, and especially in winning teams, show all those plus the 5th (Self-actualization) …and some even move to the highest plane (Self-transcendence).
Lots of fancy stuff there, but understanding the basics really helps when you start to build that winning team. Like, what’s in it for the team members? If they are happy and satisfied with their membership and the team’s purpose, they work together a lot better, and are more self-driven and successful.
That does NOT mean they should all be the same. Quite the opposite. I’ve had the most success with teams that are built from people that are completely diverse (and I don’t mean the simplistic “diverse” that popular culture and political correctness “mandate”).
Diverse in my mind starts with those simple differences, like different genders, socio-economic backgrounds, cultural background, racial differences, etc…but then continues to age, experience(s), job classifications, etc. Even (if it is relevant to the purpose of the team, such as policy development, etc.), different political views, possibly different religious views, etc.
An example would be one team I put together when I was a Policy Developer at an agency Headquarters (HQ) in Washington DC. I had been asked to write a Maritime Enforcement Policy. The standard method was to sit down, read up on various other agency’s policies, and then write ours. Not what I did.
First, I went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), and participated in the multi-agency boat training there. Then I sat with another agency in another department that had similar enforcement authorities, as they developed their policy.
Then I went back to our HQ, and called together a team from the field and from HQ. It consisted of actual working folks from the front lines (not bosses) - members from Investigations, Patrol, Smuggling, etc…which my boss (and his boss) questioned…but it was my project so they let me run with it. The next thing I did caused an even bigger uproar, but we did it anyway. I invited the national Union president, and an attorney from the Legal department to join the team, so that we didn’t need to ask for Union or Agency buy-in later…they were part of the development. And, believe it or not, I took the whole crew to a couple of field locations where various agencies (Immigration, Border Patrol, Customs, DEA, Coast Guard, etc.) did maritime enforcement, for discussions and ride-alongs to get a feel for actual maritime enforcement.
I then brought them all back to DC, put them in a room together with a white board and flip board, all the resources they needed, and all the policies, training courses and notes I had from my earlier efforts, gave them the parameters of what we were trying to develop (along with a “policy” template), and turned them loose before I stepped out of the room. One week later, we had the best friggin’ policy that had come out of that office in a very long time…and it had the full buy-in from the field, management, Union, and legal from the get-go.
The trick was bringing together people who had a stake in the outcome, from a wide and diverse background, giving them the tools, understanding and guidance they needed, and getting out of their way.
I could go on and on about this subject, but the short of it is:
Be an example of true leadership, honestly care about the people (not just the policy, task or goal), and lead by example, not directives.
As my grandpa used to tell me – the best way to run a team of horses is not to hold the reins too tight. That confuses the horses, and may even make them stop. Hold the reins loosely, giving just enough guidance to keep them on track, and let them have their heads. You’ll be surprised how fast you get there, and the horses will have a blast!