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Team dynamics take time and patience

Dog Teaches Team Dynamics

Mayflower has planted herself firmly and refused to walk. It will take more time for her to feel comfortable with me. Rushing her is not an option. The best results will come when we operate on her time frame.

Not everyone works like you do. While that might seem obvious, it’s easy to forget, which can derail progress and your team dynamics!

It’s challenging when you’re trying to accomplish something with someone who has a completely foreign approach. Instead of recognizing and appreciating the difference, we start to get tense and frustrated that things aren’t going as we expected. That’s a signal that it’s time for a mindset change.

Getting to know another style takes time and patience

Our new foster dog is reminding me of this valuable lesson. Mayflower, a 120-lb brindle mastiff is timid around new people. So much so that the process of fostering her is an involved operation, taking time and patience, both necessary as a precursor to eventual success of her living at our home.

Instead of the typical same-day ‘meet and greet’ introduction before you head home together, Mayflower and I have been getting to know each other over the last three weeks. I visit her at the shelter, just hanging out together in the same space.

During the first week, she refused to walk with me unless someone else she knew was with us. If that person walked away, leaving us alone, Mayflower would plant her large, strong frame on the ground, not moving. She wasn’t angry nor aggressive, just uncomfortable with me–her actions made that loud and clear. (When you want to make a statement, being a large dog is an advantage!)

Mayflower’s strength offers another important reminder for managers: she has the advantage of size, making it harder for me to drag her along. It would have been very difficult to budge her, so I didn’t even try. Working with a 10-lb chihuahua would have made it much more tempting just to tug hard, insisting on MY way. But it would not have been the right thing to do.

The lesson here: Don’t manhandle people because of your positional power. It won’t make your team members trust you as a safe and supportive ally. Building relationships takes active participation from both sides, no matter what the size or level of authority.

Find other ways to accurately understand each other. Reliable, validated assessments are an ideal, objective method for looking at different work styles through the lens of a common language. Seeing results on paper removes the judgment and allows you to gain perspective about your team dynamics. This provides a platform for discussion so you can realize the value of each style, moving beyond a sense of right or wrong.

Recognize any feelings of frustration but don’t let them dictate your actions

My husband and I knew what we were getting into when we agreed to foster Mayflower. When the shelter reached out to ask if we were interested, they were clear about what it would take. Even with their amazing support and resources, there are times when I want Mayflower to be moving faster than she is. But as is the case with managers, you have to move at the pace of the other person if you want the best results. 

Yes, you can be frustrated. That’s only human (and canine, too!). But recognize it as part of the process and re-direct that feeling to understanding.

When we push people in ways that disregard their opinions, beliefs, or comfort zones, we erode trust and damage our team dynamics. Yes, we can (and should!) ask people to grow and develop. That’s exactly what we’re asking Mayflower to do. For successful outcomes, we need to provide an environment that protects a person’s safety (physical and mental). Honest discussion, some compromise, and a little time and patience will help to ensure mutual understanding of the goals and outcomes.

Working together will allow you to walk in tandem rather than opposition. Tug gently on the leash for encouragement but don’t drag it with your employee kicking and screaming. That will get you nowhere.


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  1. Rhonda McMahon on February 20, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    Love this post! What a great insight into working with new people. Once again, the lessons we can learn from our four legged friends are immeasurable!

    • Robin on February 20, 2020 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks, Rhonda, isn’t it wonderful to learn from these smart creatures!?! I appreciate you leaving your thoughts here! Cheers to you.

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