“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.”
At Distel Wolfe, we’re big dog fans. Carol has two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels — brothers Gatsby and Brody, and I have a labrador/poodle mix named Howie. In fact, we are so much dog people that when we first started our company, we (briefly) looked at potentially naming ourselves using some variation of a dog theme.
As dog lovers, we sometimes tend to see the world through our dog's’ eyes. That means the work we do with companies and nonprofits. And often we’re struck with how our scavenger hunt team building activities reminds us of our four-legged friends. In that spirit, we’re listing the seven ways our dogs taught us about team building:
1. Always look for the best in people
It says something about Howie that one of the hardest things about owning him is how much he LOVES everyone. He just can’t help himself when it comes to meeting strangers, and has to introduce himself. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends, but that’s ok. He just adjusts and moves on.
That’s what you need to do with your team, to the greatest extent as possible. While you can offer constructive feedback on performance (assuming you’re a manager, or at least have a good working relationship) assume that your colleagues are doing the best they can. This is one of the fastest ways to build trust, and improve team performance.
2. Get your paws dirty
Want to guarantee that you’ll have a great time at a scavenger hunt? Commit to putting yourself out there. Dogs know how important the power of play is, and they take every opportunity to put themselves to run, jump and roll around in the dirt. (Also, they never pass up a joyride.) We should spend some time thinking about how we can follow their lead in this respect. But getting our paws dirty can mean different things to different people. We may reach the same goal but in different ways.
Carol’s dogs Brody and Gatsby experience life differently, each offering a different lesson. “When taking my dogs for a walk, Brody calmly stands while I hook his collar to the leash while Gatsby completes backflip and cannot contain his excitement,” says Carol. “Once we start walking, Brody stays by my side walking with a big smile on his face content to be with his pack. Gatsby runs like a loose chicken darting from side to side. If we pass a lake, pond or mud puddle, Gatsby ventures in and if possible, takes a swim. If we are lucky enough to find something like a dead frog or freshly laid mulch, Gatsby rolls in it, taking in the full sensory experience.” But Carol says it turns out Brody’s calmness and ability to connect people brings big rewards too. “When a stranger comes along, Gatsby hides and Brody takes the lead, sitting attentively while getting all the attention.”
Just like Brody and Gatsby (and Howie), people learn and experience life in their own unique way. Some of us are comfortable meeting new people, others not so much. Some can learn from reading about a subject, others are tactile and need to touch and see how something works. Our experiences make up who we are and how we think. One approach isn’t better than the other, so be open to seeing things from another person’s perspective.
3. Adapt and thrive
Ever had a dog that’s been skunked? After the initial shock wears off, you probably realized that you’re really quite angry with your beloved pooch. It’s a huge process to try and remove the smell, and it can be weeks before your dog, and even your house, begins to smell normal.
But eventually you do get back to normal, and you forgive and move on (of course, your dog was probably back to normal 30 minutes after it happened, and can’t figure out why you haven’t done the same).
In life, lessons aren’t always as clear as being sprayed by a skunk in the face. But when things go wrong, it’s best to figure out a solution as quickly as possible, and keep your eye on the prize. If we can learn lessons together during our team building, we’ll be better off.
4. Tailor your approach, based on the person
Once on a backpacking trip with Howie on the Manistee River Loop, I learned just how adaptable my dog can be. We’d just packed up camp early one morning and were hiking down the trail, and stumbled upon a giant porcupine standing in the path. My first instinct was to grab my dog and jerk him back close to me — I was afraid his over eager friendliness would get him a face full of quills. But despite Howie’s tendency to be friendly towards all creatures big and small, something held him back. He let out a little growl, but stayed close by me until the porcupine meandered off into the brush. Thank god my pooch somehow knew that friendliness was not going to work in this situation — we were miles from any kind of medical care.
Often in the workplace we have to tailor our approach to our audience. Sometimes a little caution is better than immediately bounding up to someone with unbridled enthusiasm. Certainly we see this with our scavenger hunt teams who approach strangers to help them complete a challenge. Sometimes folks tell them “no,” and they have to find someone else who is willing to have a little fun and help a group of people out.
5. Forgive and move on
Our dogs love us unconditionally. So if we don’t manage to walk them as often as we used to, or leave them locked up longer than they deserve, we feel bad. But the great thing about dogs is that all that is immediately forgotten. They’re just so damn happy that you’re there, and any slights or misgivings are immediately forgotten as soon as you open the door.
Effective team building requires that you make mistakes. You’re not going to get everything right the first time. It’s the competition, the working together that’s the fun part! So make the mistakes, learn from them and move on. As we like to say at DW, “There is no failure, only feedback.”
6. Give everyone a chance — but be fiercely loyal to the pack
My kids joke that Howie’s love for me borders on fanatical. They can be scratching his belly, giving him treats, throwing the ball — all things he loves — but the minute I walk in the door, all he cares about is me and what I’m doing.
That’s what we often see with our teams. They love playing the game, interacting with strangers, and even occasionally helping each other out with challenges. They convince the more introverted team members to do some pretty crazy things. But at the end of the day, it’s all done in the spirit of gaining points for their team, and reaching the goal of having a really great time together.
7. Be here now.
My dog never has anywhere to be, except right where I am. I have his full attention pretty much any time I want it. This is especially evident when I come home from a long trip (or even just a short trip to the grocery store) — the joy! The exuberance! It’s like he’s saying, “It’s YOU! I was HOPING it would be you!”
Before every hunt, I make it a point to tell all the teams, “Look, you have a lot going on in your lives. And not just at work. Forget about that dumb thing your spouse said this morning, forget that your kid is making you crazy with her attitude, forget all those emails and work projects that are looming on deadline. Right now — right here — I want you to be present. Do yourself a favor and go all in. You’ve only got 90 minutes to do this hunt, so you might as well enjoy it.”
What do you think?
“It’s not the size of the dogs in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Dwight Eisenhower said that (or maybe it was Mark Twain — attribution is a tricky thing). What has your dog taught you about life and work? Is there anything you’ve seen a dog do that we’d be well-served to emulate?
Ready to get your pack out and working together? Contact us, we'd love to put together a "run with the big dogs" hunt for your team!
Co-founder Jill Hinton Wolfe is a communicator, entrepreneur and Army veteran who is passionate about designing surprising and unique experiences for her clients.