Perspectives

WHEN TEAMS FAIL - LEARNING FROM THE OXEN AND THE LION

“A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.”
“A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.”

WHEN TEAMS FAIL - LEARNING FROM THE OXEN AND THE LION

A formidable fable from the great Greek Aesop – a warning about fragmenting teams. Throughout October, we’re exploring different aspects of team dynamics.

2020 has been a time for learning, flexibility, and a drive to survive. Teams around the world have adapted and rebuilt to sustain themselves and their businesses. In these disrupted times what can The Four Oxen and A Lion teach us?

The Myth of the Weakest Link

The overall learning of this fable is clear: teamwork allowed the Oxen to stay safe, with all angles covered the lion had no weak spots. But when the team failed, the individuals in it were lost.

It’s said that “you are only as strong, as your weakest link”. But each of these Oxen was equally strong, and equally weak.

Our teams are made up of people who all have different weaknesses, but they also all bring different strengths.  Although we can sometimes let ourselves believe that there may be one individual “weak link” it is important to recognise that everyone within that team has weaknesses. We all have within us the makings of a weak link.

In teams, our weaknesses are strengthened by the strengths of others. And our strengths are multiplied by the strengths of others.

But when teams become fragmented or disband, we lose the strength of the group. Our weaknesses are amplified and, like the Oxen who abandoned one another, we find ourselves at greater risk.

What lions are prowling around your team?

Ask yourself three questions:

  • What lions are prowling around my team? What are the risks and dangers that are facing us? It could be related to Covid-19, disruptive technology, Brexit, changing markets or something else.
  • What strengths do we have to stay resilient as a team in the face of this danger?
  • What do I need to do to keep my team united in the face of this threat?
Why Did The Oxen Disperse?

Asesop told stories with a clear moral. But let’s dig a little deeper, to see what else we could learn.

Why did the oxen abandom the safety of their team? Perhaps they had a disagreement over which field they should go to next. Maybe someone at someone else’s patch of grass. Did one of them step on another’s hoof? What if one of them make a promise they didn’t keep?

Teams working closely together may encounter similar challenges:

  • Do members of your team sometimes have conflict about the direction you need to take?
  • Are there ever clashes over resource and time allocation?
  • Do you find you’re constantly navigating personal agendas, managing egos and dealing with conflict?
  • Do your team members trust each other to do what they say they will do?
Don’t Be Like The Oxen

If you answer even the hint of a yes to any of these questions, your team risks going the way of the Oxen in Aesop’s fable.

If you answered yes, it’s time to realign your team culture, build a sense of trust, and develop effective communication.

Over the next few weeks, we are running a series of webinars on helping teams align and stay strong in these challenging times. Join us for one or more to explore how to help your team survive and thrive.

Watch our recent webinar on Trust:

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