Sled Dogs Teach Teamwork

 

Human Resources staff recently discovered there are several parallels between the teamwork required by sled dogs during a race and the qualities that employees must possess to work together most effectively and efficiently.

The department conducts quarterly, internal team-building exercises to promote broader communication and increase its credibility in coaching other campus leaders on how to improve the team environment. For its latest training session, Human Resources invited Darlene Walch (AIS) to bring some of her sled dogs to campus for a demonstration and discussion. She purposely selected dogs of different genders, ages, sizes, abilities and temperaments to reflect a typical workplace.

For its latest training session, the office invited Darlene Walch (AIS) to bring some of her sled dogs to campus for a demonstration and discussion. She purposely selected dogs of different genders, ages, sizes, abilities and temperaments to reflect a typical workplace.

 

Walch talked about how each individual’s competence in a position contributes to the team’s overall performance; the value of skilled, older dogs mentoring and training young, inexperienced dogs; the need for individual and team goal-setting; the importance of supplementing intelligence with an ability to listen and follow directions; and the musher’s role as team manager.

 

“The musher needs to create a productive environment where all dogs can achieve their potential; no fighting allowed,” said Walch. “She or he needs to remain calm, keep the dogs calm and find solutions to problems when things don’t go as planned. Sometimes one or more dogs can be partners in solving the problem. Communication is also critical. The lead dog can be 50 feet in front, depending on the number on the team, and the closest dogs are about 10 feet away. Mushers need to pay attention to signals that can indicate fatigue, injury or confusion.”

 

Walch has given other presentations with her dogs, but this was the first time she correlated teamwork components so closely to the workplace. Ann Sherman (Human Resources) said she realized that training is critical for both dog teams and employees.

 

 “Also, it often helps for dogs to switch places on the team, which I can generalize to the value of cross-training employees,” she said. “Also, it takes time for both to adapt to each other and work as a team. With the amount of change in our department the past few years, it’s important for us to devote time to relationship behaviors in addition to our daily task behaviors. There are many ways individual dogs—and employees—can influence a group, both for good and to cause problems. It’s the leader’s job to determine where they might fit best and who they might work with most effectively.”

 

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Updated: April 30, 2010

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