I consider myself a team player in every sense of the word. I played competitive volleyball for 12+ years and worked in professional and collegiate athletics for eight years. I’ve also coached high school volleyball for three seasons and counting. Competitive team sports have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Even though I’m no longer competing, that competitive drive doesn’t leave. Ever. So instead of proving those myths of “I ain’t as good as I once was” true, I decided to take up an entirely different sport, one of an equine variety. Having to be a part of this very different team has changed my tune on how I approach communication within my teams at Method.
I began riding cutting horses six years ago. For those who have no idea what that is, here’s a video of one of the best cutters in the history of the sport. Cutting is simple: My partner — Zane, my horse — and I have to separate a single cow from a herd of cattle and prevent it from getting back to the herd. We get two minutes and thirty seconds to get two to three cows separated.
Zane and I are judged based on our herd work (not scattering or upsetting the herd while separating out a cow), degree of difficulty, controlling the cow, the amount of courage we show (seriously), and a few other metrics. The crazy thing is that we communicate solely with body language, the positioning of my feet and heels on his body, the pressure of my legs and where I place my hands while working. We cannot have a clean run if I don’t trust him to work, and if he doesn’t trust me.
Teamwork in a PR and marketing agency is a lot like getting ready for a run in the cutting pen. Below are a few things Zane has taught me on how to be a better teammate, regardless of who my partner is.
Get to know your teammates personally
Take time to get to know those you work with. It took me a handful of rides and a whole lot of patience to get to know Zane instinctively. I had to understand how he works; he had to understand what kind of rider I am and how I lead us into work.
Be open with your teammates about your strengths, areas of opportunity and where you want to go. Share those incredible weekend adventures, your pick to win The Bachelorette or your favorite wine recommendation with your team. The more open you can be, the more trust you can build. You don’t have to be just co-workers, you can be friends too!
Discuss areas of opportunities together
I am the first to say I am not a super aggressive rider, and that has been an area of opportunity for me this season. I am pretty vocal about this with my trainer and my riding group. I challenge myself to find that grit during those tough rides when things aren’t going my way. Sometimes it’s better to take a less-than-perfect score, knowing that you tried to be fundamentally correct, than just a straight-up disaster.
With this in mind, I am open with my teams when I don’t necessarily know the answer. I take this as an opportunity to learn and connect with others who love different parts of PR and marketing than me — that lets me learn and become better. Chatting through areas of opportunity has allowed me to become much more self-aware in my professional life.
Trust your team
In the show pen, my trainer always tells me to trust my movements and never rush my cuts. That means being patient and waiting for that final cow left standing in the working area so that I can get to work. All during that movement and time, I trust that Zane and I are locked in on the same cow. He trusts me to keep my head up, eyes on and hands forward, allowing him to get to business. I trust him to make sure he gets there to stop that cow each and every time, so we can keep our run going.
When you’re on a team, you have to share trust all around. No one can do the work all by themselves. (I don’t think the judge would let me enter the show pen without a horse). You can’t see everything going on and you can’t be everywhere at once. At some point, you’re going to have to let the people you work with do their job.
No team is perfect, and there’s no such thing as a perfect teammate. But bringing trust, vulnerability, understanding and compassion to each team interaction will foster an environment of growth. And, after enough practice together with mutual trust, you’ll fall into a natural rhythm.