Common ground

story

One of the joys of being an athlete is telling stories.

From the everyday lessons and hilarious moments during training to epic fails and victories at races, as athletes we’re always ready to shoot the breeze about our experiences and listen to others recount their greatest hits.

These shared experiences render our differences irrelevant. Because of my athletic pursuits I’ve forged strong connections with people I would never have otherwise known. Had we met under different circumstances, we would never have connected on such a meaningful level.

Perhaps we would have been at odds on most issues and written each other off.

Endurance sports have taken me to so many venues where inevitably I meet people who share my passion. Facebook then enables us to look beyond the connection and realize the differences. Yet, our connection remains as long as there’s that passion and new stories to tell.

My recent dive into Crossfit has placed me among an amazing group of people who could be my sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, or even, dare I say, a grandkid or two.Yet, whether we’re in or out of the Box, our common love of CF breaks down generational walls, making room for everything truly important, like our distaste for burpees and thrusters.

The only time we ever diverge is when the rare 80’s tune is played to my obvious delight. \m/!

So, why doesn’t this work in the workplace? Too often factions form, controversy brews, and trouble breaks out.

This is the litmus test for shared passion and great team building.

When diverging personalities come together without a common ground, there’s potential for disaster. That’s when leaders need to act quickly to find a connection between people to build on. It can be done, but it takes hard work.

Some time ago I took over a team with a number of vacancies. Instead of merely filling these positions I created an overall strategy for building a stronger team that would connect on a deeper level than their jobs. When the team was assembled, I could tell it was successful from the outset. Lunch gatherings were as hilarious as they were instructive, conversations abounded, and the brainstorming fed a collective creativity that produced amazing ideas.

I built a team with the right people whose connection transcended the work we were doing.

Let’s face it, why would we spend our free time working out with or partying with people we didn’t connect with? Yet, so many people spend the better part of their week with strangers, and the less we have in common with them the harder it is.

As leaders it’s our responsibility to build teams, which means we must bring passion and connection into the picture before we do anything else. People will ignore a whole lot of differences between them when they are connected meaningfully. If all they have are their differences, then nature will take its course.

Step one is getting to know your people and writing down their traits, hobbies, and activities. Perhaps you could begin something extracurricular under the umbrella of your wellness program or as a conscious team building exercise. This doesn’t have to happen in secret. Your colleagues may even appreciate the effort and help out.

You must be a catalyst for change at work by drilling into what makes your people happy and resetting your team’s course, reminding them about their common passions. Along with this being great for business, it makes of one heck of a fun place to work.

You can’t teach nice

team

If you haven’t surrounded yourself with people who inspire you, don’t be surprised if you’re not inspired.

Over the years job requirements have gotten laser specific. Gone are the days of the good natured utility player; someone who can do a little of everything and be reassigned to your organization’s greatest need. In our review of resumes we’ve created a cold science of matching skills to skills. When those rare hits are found, we too often end our search based more on qualifications than anything else.

I fear we’ve made it easier to create teams of uninspiring, humorless people, resulting in uninspiring, humorless teams.

How then do we screen for humor and inspiration?

The other night I showed up at Crossfit Mid Hudson a little early and watched the class before mine finish their workout of the day (WOD.) A WOD is a workout measured in time, repetitions, or rounds that you complete with other people who are also competing for the best time or most reps against their own best times and everyone else in the room, which is affectionately referred to as the Box.

A friend was struggling through the paces of the day’s tough WOD when the magic took over. At every struggled step on her journey someone encouraged her to ‘stay tough,’ ‘keep going,’ ‘be strong.’ She completed the WOD and collapsed to the floor, only to be congratulated by the same people she was competing against seconds earlier.

Under the right circumstances the Crossfit model works wonders. Although each person’s time is recorded as a solo exercise, there is a strong sense of teamwork, encouragement, and inspiration. Everything in the WOD is designed to make you give up, but the fire inside you fanned by everyone around you makes you finish.

In the case of Crossfit, you don’t always get a chance to choose who’s surrounding you. However, at work and most other training opportunities you do.

How have you surrounded yourself with the right people?

In the case of your team you absolutely must have a legal way of screening for inspiration and humor. Have you ever asked these questions?

  • Tell me what inspires you.
  • How have you inspired others, specifically?
  • Tell me about a time when you were inspired to exceed a goal.
  • If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you want to play you? Why?
  • If you were a car, what would you be? Why?
  • If you had one year with no financial obligations what would you do with the time?

Curve balls in an interview are necessary just to see this prospective team member’s reaction. And, you can learn so much about someone as they reveal the answers to these questions. Remember, you’re hiring for your team, a coveted membership to an elite group. Not just anyone deserves to be a member, and you can’t teach nice.

This is true for our training partners. There should be a give and take that inspires and challenges everyone involved, whether it’s a large group or one other person. Your training can be serious, but never too serious.

Your time and effort are worth more than you could ever quantify. Since we’re surrounded by people in so much of what we do, make sure the criteria for joining Team You is as high as it can be, and that you are screening for the right qualities.

Finish strong

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It all makes sense at the finish line.

The quest to cross a finish line has a life of its own. These are journeys of self-discovery, pain, joy, inspiration, defeat, and victory. When I cross a finish line everything falls into place. Exuberance, relief, pain and glory describe pieces of the feeling, but the emotional totality of crossing that line has yet to be accurately put into words.

I had slowed to a painful walk with three miles to go at my first Ironman Lake Placid, each excruciating step a reminder of the hours I hadn’t spent training. Mustering the energy to speed up to a half run took a courage and resolve I never knew I possessed.

With three miles to glory I summoned everything and jogged. The louder Mike Reilly’s voice got telling finishers they were Ironmen, the faster my legs were willing to carry me. I was drawn to the finish line like a strengthening magnet.

When I hit the Olympic Skating Oval, jam packed with hundreds of enthusiastic supporters cheering their faces off, I achieved a full stride run and finished with a flourish of high fives and a burst of energy I hadn’t felt all day.

It was miraculous, and over time I’ve come to realize that finish line is mine to tap into, forever.

How do you cross the finish line as a manager?

You may say every day ends at a finish line, or every challenge or deadline, but that’s too simplistic. Finish lines are special, never mundane. Their power lies in in a unique, deliberate struggle, one of your choosing.

As a leader, the most worthwhile finish lines are those you create. They should be limited to a doable number at any given time, written down, and mapped. Some should be personal, some involving a few people, and others involving your entire team or organization.

For example:

  • I’m getting my Master’s Degree.
  • My recruitment team and I are revamping the hiring process to make it faster and more efficient.
  • The entire management team is going for a top 10 finish in a Best Places to Work survey one year from now.

Each goal is doable, timetabled, measurable, and has a clear finish line at the end.

If you continue to raise the bar as you begin successfully crossing the finish lines you set for yourself and your team, success will become a way of life. And, make sure you always celebrate at the end, telling war stories and recounting lessons learned.

We’ll always have projects thrust upon us with deadlines and goals, but nothing is more valuable and satisfying than setting your own finish line, reaching it, then looking for another. You’ll find strength along the way you never knew you had.