The Perfect Team

This team of twenty lives together twenty-four hours a day. They communicate without cell phones, blackberries or email. They come from diverse backgrounds and each member is the product of a different training system. They must share all resources including food, water and space. Despite living under what we would consider less than optimum conditions this team functions very efficiently and successfully meets its goals.

Horses have had a lot of time to perfect their team-building skills. Since the evolution of the first horse millions of years ago they have lived and survived in groups. Despite the fact that our horses have been domesticated for thousands of years they still have the instincts and responses of their wild ancestors.  Survival is a very clear goal that is shared by every horse in the herd and all behaviours in the herd are directed towards that goal.

This is a team that is committed to getting results. When your goal is survival you take accountability very seriously. If a herd member signals danger no one suggests that they schedule a series of meetings to discuss the issue; they go, they go fast, and they go together. This ability to move without hesitation as a unit is a result of the respect and trust among the herd members.

Every herd needs a leader. The herd leader is the horse that most consistently demonstrates calm self assurance and the ability to “walk the talk” Most people cannot identify the herd leader when observing the herd as his behavior is not overt. His function is not to micro-manage but to constantly scan and be aware of the environment around and within the herd. A herd is a dynamic entity that must constantly adjust its actions and behaviours to the changing environment in order to function efficiently and safely.

Observers are often shocked when they first watch horses interact. Horses assert leadership by pushing each other physically out of their space. This can involve biting and kicking and at times it can seem quite aggressive. This aggression is short-lived though and the two combatants are usually eating quietly side by side or grooming each other moments later. Horses, unlike humans, do not perceive conflict in the group as a win-lose scenario. When one horse asserts himself over another he then takes on the responsibility of providing leadership. The less dominant horse has not lost a battle as much as he has gained a leader. Conflict is a healthy and necessary component of group interaction.

I am not about to suggest that we all start pushing each other around at the office water cooler. There are lessons that we can learn however from the equine herd about trust and respect, communication, positive conflict and team leadership.

If you would like to learn more about creating and leading great teams you are welcome to spend some time in my back field.

Laura Hunter

"Horses want to see the same qualities of character in their leaders that we want to see in ourselves. It's simple: Being the better horse can develop the balance to becoming a better person."
Chris Irwin

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