I recently walked St Cuthbert’s Way, an ancient pilgrimage route from Melrose in the Scottish Borders to Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coast. The challenge was seventy miles in five days, four days of 16 miles and the last day of six miles, which was tide-dependent.
The other challenge was eight women walking together, some who already knew one other, some who were meeting for the first time.
Does this sound like a recipe for disaster or a recipe for success?
The group contained a range of personalities and abilities, but what we all shared was being successful, professional, independent women accustomed to leading. There were CEOs of national organisations, trouble-shooting head teachers, SME business owners, HR directors of international companies, lawyers and me.
How could we work as a team? Would it even be possible? Would there be power challenges or conflict? The answer is, there were none. Here’s the recipe that I believe set us up for success – and which can be applied to any situation.
- Have a shared goal: We were united by our wish to complete the
70 milewalk in five days, so we automatically had something in common. How we wanted to accomplish that goal was often different. Some people wanted to walk quickly, others wanted to look at nature or heritage sites along the way. Some wanted long lunches. Regardless of our preferences, our overall aim was the same. However, this isn’t enough without…
- A shared vision of how to achieve that goal: This isn’t about simply identifying a destination, but talking in detail about how you want to get there. We discussed details like pace and what skills we all had to bring to the group. The important thing here is about how we all gave feedback, we all contributed, we were all listened to and we all felt part of the process. This wasn’t contrived but happened informally which, on reflection, was due to the behaviours we brought with us because of our skills and experience
- Identify roles people are happy with: We all identified our own strengths and then volunteered, from first aid to
mapreading, and worked out a role for everyone so we all felt we were contributing to the group’s success, not simply our own. That feeling of a purpose beyond oneself is powerful in any situation, and being part of something bigger. Having clear roles we had volunteered for helps us engage fully in the purpose
- Be flexible: A plan is good, but if it’s not working, you have to be able to flex and change to adapt to the situation you’re faced with on an hour-by-hour or day-by-day basis. We had to work around a range of minor injuries – six lost
toe nailsand too many blisters to count – and a few literal wrongturns, but we did succeed together in the end and enjoyed every step of the way
- Reflect and review often: I’m sure that our review of the day,
glassof wine in hand, feet up having eaten some lovely pub grub isn’t available as a technique to everyone, but the regularity was critical to our success. Just as important was the supportive nature of our chats, which weren’t planned, but seemed to happen naturally. We were often tired, which could have been the cause of tensions or disagreements, but there were never any recriminations, just a willingness to learn from the day’s events and use people’s previous experiences to help us succeed again the next day. We talked about what we did well that day, what we could do even better the next day and what we were going to keep on doing.
What I learned about success on St Cuthbert’s Way can easily be translated into a business setting. It’s about goals and gaining people’s commitment by involving them in the process. That is done by creating purpose – helping everyone understand the big picture and feel part of something bigger. Purpose can be created through powerful communication of which listening is key. Once you have these basic ingredients it’s about continuous support, feedback, flexing and reviewing.
As a coach I help people identify their goals, their definition of success, and vision for how to achieve it. I provide space to think, reflect and review. If you feel you would benefit from an impartial listening ear, give me a call to talk about how I can help you.