As a child I was read the story of The Little Red Hen. It's one of the stories cleverly constructed so as to teach us one of life's valuable lessons, like The Boy who Cried Wolf, which, as we all remember, gives us a firm lesson in the consequences of telling lies. After years of observing team dynamics, it occurred to me that The Little Red Hen offers a valuable analogy for teams.
If you have a team who do not communicate effectively with one another and are who lack focus on the team goals, then read on...
The story tells the tale of a (Little Red) Hen who wants to make a loaf of bread. But to bake and eat a loaf of bread, the hen knows there are a number of actions that must happen first, ie; cutting down the wheat, grinding it, carrying it to the mill, etc. And so at every step the hen asks for help from the other farmyard animals and, at every step, her request for help is refused. The determined, persistent Little Red Hen works on alone until, at last, her bread is baked and ready to eat. Immediately the smell of the freshly baked bread draws interest from the other animals, eager to help with the eating of the bread. The Little Red Hen stands firm, informing them they are not entitled to eat the bread because they did not help to make it, despite her requests for help.
So what can leaders and teams learn from this children's story?
1. The first lesson is that if you want the benefits and rewards, you have to contribute. High performing teams know that their output will only be as good as their collective input, and so they support one another to maximise that output, by communicating clearly with one another and asking for help when it's required.
2. Secondly, a team work more effectively when they are united in one goal. If the other animals had helped the Little Red Hen, the bread would have been ready sooner and they would have been able to bake more bread and reap even greater rewards. For teams united in their common goals; productivity is higher and results are significantly greater.
3. Thirdly, had the animals all agreed to help, the atmosphere in the farmyard would have been much better. A team who are unwilling or unable to help one another will never be as effective as one who does. Mistrust, suspicion, anger, frustration are highly damaging to any team's effectiveness. Conversely, the team that hold themselves and each other to account, who trust and respect each other bake bigger, tastier loaves and more of them!
4. Lastly, good behaviours encourage good behaviours. If the first animal asked to help had done so, the chances of the other animals following suit would have increased greatly. The abundance of research on group dynamics teaches us that team members are influenced by the behaviours and opinions of their other team mates. Positive behaviours will snowball, but so will negative behaviours, it falls to the leader to hold their team to account for their actions and to lead by example.
So if you're looking for a different approach for your next team meeting, consider buying each member a copy of The Little Red Hen. Perhaps use your team's most important goal to create a parallel with The Little Red Hen. Start by clarifying the goal: what is it, what will goal achievement look like? Then ask the team to define the actions required to achieve the goal, clearly assigning accountability to each individual step. Order in some freshly baked loaves from your local bakery; the taste and smell of the bread will create a greater impact and will help to reinforce your message.
Good luck - may your loaves be delicious and plentiful!