Shape Your Team: Lessons from Centipede Races

“Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.” –Stephen Covey

Do you ever hear seasoned employees complain about inexperienced hires or new hires complain about employees who have been around too long? Sadly, it’s fairly common. Some describe what is was like “back in the day” and believe others need to pay their dues. Others talk about doing things the way they’ve always been done rather than experimenting with new ideas. With multi-generational employees working side-by-side to achieve common goals, inclusive leaders help team members learn from each other.

Consider what employees might learn from the Steven Thompson Memorial Centipede, an unusual cross-country meet in Idaho. During the race, each member of a five-person team holds a different handle on alternating sides of a ‘centipede’ rope. They run as a unit for the first two miles of a three-mile course. At the two-mile mark, team members drop the rope and finish the race as individuals. Prior to the race, team members strategize about whether to put their fastest runners at the front to “pull” the slower runners, at the back to encourage slower runners, etc. The event requires the team to consider different strengths, experience levels, who needs to be out front to gain distance and what strategy best increases their chance to win. In the end, in this race, a team and an individual can both come out on top.

Similarly, leaders must design a strategy to achieve long-term team success. The first step is to ensure that all team members are heard, valued and recognized for their talents and contributions. Leaders who are clear and direct about the “WHY” for their choices encourage greater collaboration among team members. A new employee may be put “out front” in a visible position to gain experience or advocate a new idea. A seasoned employee may take the lead to model expertise or build credibility with customers or clients. With transparency, those who work in less visible positions or behind the scenes understand their value to the team’s overall success. Effective leaders share opportunities and recognition among all team members no matter the generation, so that everyone has a chance to run/win together and shine as individuals. The centipede race demonstrates how all can win when they understand and value each member of the team as well as when to “let go” of the rope!

Download Baker's Dozen Suggestions for Bridging Generational Gaps and contact Kittie Watson to learn more.

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