A small strip of long ‘disputed’ territory called the Golan Heights rises high above the western edge of the Sea of Galilee in Israel and undulates east until it hits an Israeli controlled (and UN observed) border with Syria. I spent 6 months on this border monitoring and reporting on any military activity between the two countries.
Both countries have signed an agreement to limit their military hardware and soldiers within certain proximity of the ‘border’ and occasionally there would be a request from UN Head Quarters in Jerusalem to ‘spot check’ Israeli and Syrian soldier numbers, weapons and munitions – just to make sure both sides of the border were abiding by their respective UN agreements
One of these checks had been ordered on what was otherwise a normal Spring morning in late March 1997. Not long into the check, I spotted a bus load of tourists picking flowers in a field by the side of the road. In most places in the world, this would probably go unnoticed. In this case, the fence that divided the road and the field had small yellow signs every 20 metres or so. The sign (in Hebrew) said, ‘Minefield’.
The Golan Heights is predictably, unpredictable. This day was no different and what should have been a routine activity turned into ‘organised chaos’ as I explained to the tourists that they should all ‘freeze’ and I began the arduous process of pulling them out, one at a time.
Now, I should say at this point that they’d managed to enjoy their flower picking thus far without injury, and they may well have gone on to enjoy their day and been none the wiser, but they might not have either.
It takes time to train in the technique for evacuating a minefield and it’s not exactly the sort of skill that gets called upon every day. However, it is a good example of what is often seen as inefficient – we don’t have time to train, when would we fit that in, that will just place the team under even more strain, this doesn’t make us any money etc – are all excuses for ranking efficiency ahead of our capacity to deal with the unexpected.
In a time when the unexpected is becoming the ‘norm’, we really can’t afford to only focus on what is most efficient. We need to build in robustness. The ability to absorb shock, to cope when things don’t go as planned. To have the more difficult conversations in the consulting room with the client that extend beyond the beautifully crafted treatment plan that you so efficiently just printed out.
To what extent do we forego building strength and robustness within our teams in pursuit of efficiency. The mantra is so often “let’s put a system in place” or “what’s the quickest and most efficient way for us to communicate”.
I’m not saying that systems are wrong. For starters, they help to reduce decision fatigue when, with a clear head, we think about a particular process and determine a protocol. In these situations, we couldn’t get through our day without them.
My point is to be mindful of not letting go of the key factor that will enable your team to respond well, especially when facing the unpredictable. That factor is training.
There is a subtle form of training that takes place all day without you even realising you’re doing it. It comes in the form of building human connection. It’s what sustains teams in all walks of life in really difficult situations. The bonds that we build all day long with our colleagues and our clients and the trust that can follow seemingly unnoticed because we spend so much time together.
Indulge me with one last quick story.
When ALDI Foods opened its first store in Australia at Bankstown Airport on Friday, 26th January 2001, there was much excitement. There was no less than 8 camera crews in the store (some from Germany) and no-one was more proud than the then property department of only 2 – Debbie (soon to start with us here at Lincoln!) and me which had overseen the site’s development and construction.
Deb and I were efficient at developing land and building supermarkets and we had a terrific connection such that Deb would often anticipate my next move and start planning ahead.
However, we were part of a much larger team and my role meant that I was on the road a lot looking at new prospective sites and meeting with design teams. I never found the time to ‘connect’ with store operations (to which we would hand-over the completed supermarket two weeks before store opening), the warehouse who needed to get a semi-trailer into the loading dock etc.
When it was suggested that the senior leaders of each division (6) meet every morning for 30 minutes to “drink coffee and talk”, I thought ALDI had gone barking mad! This was highly inefficient because it meant for me at least, driving 45 minutes to the office leaving home at 6am, only to turn back around at 8am and drive back a similar distance.
My most memorable times at ALDI, weren’t store openings – in fact 20 years on I can only recall a handful. But I can feel it like it was yesterday walking through head office and saying hello to every team member by their first name (yes, that took some focus to remember them but it was important) and drinking coffee in the morning between 8 and 8.30am and laughing at our own expense. It was these times that I built the connections that would enable me to inevitably reach out to my colleagues for help, cope with store completion delays due to bad weather – to deal with the unexpected. It provided the foundations of organisational resilience and a level of robustness that has enabled ALDI to keep growing.
So the next time you’re worried about the dishes in the breakroom not being washed up, I invite you to think differently. Ask yourself, are those dirty dishes the remnants of the critically important ‘training’ in building connection so vital to your practice to enable it to cope better when facing into the inevitable challenges that lie ahead?
I also invite you to take a critical look at how you show up each morning at the practice. Do you walk straight to your office because you’re ‘busy’ and it’s more efficient or do you walk around the practice and find the kennel hand, look them in the eye and say hello, using their name.
In fact, I invite you think about everything you do in the practice today in pursuit of efficiency and ask yourself, is this contributing to the robustness of your team.
Best of luck.
If you enjoyed this article you might be interested in joining us for a two day live face to face in Fremantle WA this August…
Veterinary Leadership Foundations
Upcoming Live F2F Event
Through experiential learning, we will explore the current challenges our industry face daily, providing proven strategies to ensure your team of talented people enjoy long and fulfilling careers within your organisation.
The journey to leadership mastery starts with this first step.
Join us in WA in August or QLD in September…
When: Wednesday & Thursday 10th – 11th August 2022
Where: The Fremantle Esplanade Hotel, Perth WA
When: Thursday & Friday 22nd – 23rd September 2022
Where: Hilton Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast QLD
Investment: AUS$697 inc GST
Special offer: For the next 10 tickets sold – buy one ticket and receive a second ticket free.
Promo code: “2for1inWA” when purchasing multiples of 2 tickets for the Perth event or “2for1inQLD” when purchasing multiples of 2 tickets for the Gold Coast event.
Tickets are fully tax deductible and include workbook, pen, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea on both days. There is also an optional dinner on the first night.