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Trust and Training as a Team... You Might Have Fun Doing It

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough."

Frank Crane, stage and film actor

“He treats us all alike. Like dogs.”

Attributed to Jerry Kramer, speaking of Vince Lombardi

One of the greatest challenges is training in the dynamic environment. The difficulty of teaching people new skills while there are deadlines to meet is frequently exasperating and may end in a fatalistic, “Screw it, I’ll do it myself.”

While this might have its place, it should only be done if you’re a heart surgeon and the only person next to you is the janitor. Resolve not to succumb to the easy way out in training, even under enormous pressure. The person being trained will rise to the occasion, especially if you let her know she simply has to.

The military has an initial benefit unique to almost any other career direction. A self-perpetuating indoctrination under high stress without an outlet except superior performance is the clinical definition of Marine Corps “boot camp.” Most businesses (thankfully) do not have this institutional luxury of undivided attention.

Two contradictory analogies to boot camp come to mind, both largely inadequate, but here goes: college (not necessarily high stress) and prison (not an example of superior performance standards). Either one, or the innumerable options in between, does not have the dual goal of creating a “tabula rasa” (blank slate), and the subsequent instant obedience to commands required. But even a Marine’s training is just beginning after boot camp.

Although a few thick-necked automatons may be appreciated every now and then, no one really expects or desires to have them.

To train a member of the team is to trust that person.

The marketing plan that is vital to the organization but keeps getting put off because you cannot personally find the time must be given to a team member or members. Now. Each day that goes by while you personally try to solve all the world’s problems is another day where a competent and willing partner can examine the facts and draw her own conclusions. Supervise, coach, and correct at regular, bench-marked intervals. But do trust.

And the trust of teamwork cuts both ways. Your subordinates want to trust you not just because they have to. They want the boss to be the best, but also to be a team member. Leaders who occasionally roll up their sleeves and perform routine work just to get a feel for what their folks do every day are appreciated, especially if they follow through on what they have learned.

Small acts of team building and camaraderie are looked upon favorably, even the forced attempts. A lieutenant colonel of a training command hectored his staff to get a bowling league started. All agreed that time was precious, and the savvy mid-level staff leadership of majors and captains delayed the inevitable as long as possible. The junior officers and staff NCOs and their wives made up the bulk of the ten team league.

The big night arrived. No one likes to beat the boss, and thankfully the CO took a lot of pressure off because was pretty good, consistently in the 170’s. But his wife, a petite, quiet and unassuming lady, was a solid 200 average week in and week out. She good naturedly chided her husband on league night, and he took it in stride, and we actually had a great time. For the record, my high game that year was 167. Even my wife had a 185.

One quick aside on families and team building. If your job takes you away from quality time with the most important person in your life, then these events, even if infrequent, soften the building resentment of your absence. You are including them in a part of your life you keep inside. My wife started taking my CO’s side when I complained about the job at home!

The bowling was awkward and goofy, but we saw our CO, our boss, in a human light, and although he was still a bear to work with, he was just another husband who enjoyed the company of his co-workers and their spouses. We were equals walking up to the foul line, each time. It enhanced the trust factor.

Back at the office, you cannot put work training as a team high enough on your priority list. Pull subordinates up to your level of training as soon as practical. Participate in your people’s training, no matter how routine or benign. If you think it’s important, the team will, too.

Here’s a safety tip about building your team. Avoid the rookie mistake of shaking up work groups and the subordinate leadership just for the sake of it, especially if you haven’t been in the chief’s role very long. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Have a purpose for changing team members, whether for accountability, or chemistry, or next year’s big project that requires cross-training now. Always look three or four moves out before you commit to make the switch. It would be potentially disastrous, not to mention embarrassing, to have to undo what you’ve done.

As for cross-training, if the business has a certain amount of turnover of talent, you must develop a depth-chart of skill. A high school football coach looks four or five people deep at each position, knows that his star players will leave eventually, accounts for the inevitable sprained ankle, and must continually build his program for winning around the talent available, year in and year out. Draw that depth chart. You will be shocked by the gaps.

Know that you, personally, are just a sprained ankle away from getting that first string position you thought you’d never be given the chance at… because someone sees you as the best team player.

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