Why your winning team should act like sled dogs

Part of what makes the great race of the Iditarod such an inspiring feat is the level of teamwork required at every stage.

What looks like a bunch of dogs all doing the same job is actually a versatile team—trained, orchestrated and equipped by their musher.

A full team is made up of 16 dogs, running in 4 different positions. Each dog has a particular strength and each musher knows exactly which dogs will perform best in each position.

It takes the same analysis and social understanding to create a winning team in the workplace!

Let’s take a detailed look at each pack member and how their strengths translate to your team. Keep in mind which of your own members would thrive in each position.

Who are your lead dogs?

Lead dogs know their way around the trail unsupervised and you can trust them to make decisions by guiding other team members.

Lead dogs are intelligent, possess initiative, common sense, and the ability to perform even in less than ideal conditions.

How do you know which of your team members will perform well as a Lead?

Some will take this initiative soon enough. But sometimes you take a leap of faith in an untested pack member and they surprise you.

Let Leads get to know your heart and keep them close. Learn to develop mutual intuition and give them access where the rest of the team might not have access.

Monitor their health so you don’t have to replace them. Make sure their “legs” are in good condition, in other words, make sure they are free to run with nothing stopping them from running to their full potential.

Stay prepared with Swing Dogs

The best teams have members who can fill other positions. Lead can be a heavy place that wears down, fatigues and stresses.

It is therefore natural for mushers to have their “leaders waiting” to run into the next position, which is Swing. These dogs need to be leaders in their own right, and for many, becoming that lead dog is the natural next step.

The Swing Dogs are directly behind the leader, understanding their movements and translating them to the rest of the team.

They “swing” the rest of the team behind them on bends or curves on the trail. They protect the leading dogs from an attempted turn, only to find the rest of the team choosing not to follow!

They’re key to making sure everyone makes the trip and stays in sync.

Pro Tip: When Swing Dogs are able to spin with the leashes on, both sets will stay cool and results will show.

The Powerhouses: your team dogs

Not everyone on your team will be a lead dog. In fact, if you had a full pack of them, your mission would probably fail. Chaos would ensue with everyone trying to lead.

This is why, installed in the middle, are the dogs of the team.

They don’t have to worry about the stress of leading and the sled is a comfortable distance behind them. They are free to just pull with power and run.

These pack members provide the momentum and traction you need to race. To complete the project. To continue to move towards the price.

Most of your team dogs will never be on a leash, and that’s fine with them. But you know what? If we didn’t have them, we couldn’t do what we do. They are essential to every pack and every business.

We should accept that running is not their life – and let them run 8 to 5 as hard as they can, then time it and drop it all.

Stabilize the sled with wheel dogs

Wheel dogs run at the back of the peloton, but are important for the stabilizing element they bring to the whole team.

It takes a calm and even temper to run alongside the bumpy, unpredictable sled.

These dogs know how to pull with power and consistency to maneuver the sled through turns and rough bumps. (Not all dogs can handle it, and neither should they.)

The sled isn’t always pretty — things like cash flow, layoffs, and contingency planning. There are things in your company that not all pack members need to see and some will be scared off.

What people do you allow close to the business sled?

Team dogs must run unhindered by the burdens of the sled. But remember that even the Wheel dogs closest to the sled are still not on the sled itself.

Although Wheel dogs are seasoned confidants, people you rely on to help keep your business running, they’re not meant to be mules for your emotional burdens.

Keep an eye on those boundaries, establish outside sources of emotional care and support, and you’ll keep the wheel runners, and the team as a whole, healthy.

Create your racing team

Of course, your people aren’t real running dogs. And you probably don’t wake up every morning, strap on your fur hat and ride in a wooden sled.

But it’s still true that your team’s performance is directly proportional to how well you know your employees and place them in the right place in the team.

All positions are required. Knowing which ones your team members naturally play and allowing them to run there not only increases their satisfaction, but can lead to better team performance in the long run.

Building the perfect team is rarely a sprint, rather a hugely rewarding endurance adventure for those who take the time to learn and really prepare.

Do you want a proven process to complete your projects with excellence?

I’ve created a free RACE Method™ cheat sheet to help leaders get things done!

Get the cheat sheet now.

Bette C. Alvarado