in Learning and Development, Self-Improvement

This article is part four of a seven part series on my perspective on building teams. You can read the rest of the series on my blog at While I’m sharing anonymous examples of situations based on real experiences, the series should not be construed as an attack or disparagement on any specific organization I’m involved with, but rather as a list of my thoughts on how to improve teams in general. I look forward to your constructive criticisms and thoughts.

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I gave you a few thoughts on communication in the last article, and thought I’d share a few views on training this time. Training is a critical part of human advancement. Without some method of sharing knowledge and some people willing to expand their skill set, we wouldn’t advance as a culture, as employees, as teammates or as individuals.

IMG_1553Let me start with a story. A group of men got together and decided they were tired of the grass fires burning through their land and crops. They decided they needed to start a volunteer fire department to help coordinate resources and acquire equipment in order to help battle the flames. They all had basic firefighting skills, they understood the three ingredients for a fire, and they knew they’d need to make their team official in order to be taken seriously during any grant processes or town functions. They also knew they would need a name for their group and they wanted to be careful to not give people the wrong impression about what they do. They thought of “Johnston Fire Department,” but that sounded rather boring and they loved protecting lives and property too much to be boring. They thought of “Johnston Fire Rescue,” but no one had any rescue training. They considered “Johnston Fire Brigade,” but they didn’t have the manpower to back the claim up. “Johnston Fire Department” it is. The men met at least once a week and practiced putting out small fires, trading places so everyone had a chance behind the nozzle.

One night the department received a call and dispatched to help put out a house fire. They were all well practiced, and some even well trained to put out the fire, but still none of them had rescue experience. “How silly of us,” one quipped. “We come out here, find the fire and put it out, but we have no practice with helping get anyone out of the house until we’ve flooded it with water.” Another added, “We should go to a class and get some rescue training.” That’s when the third guy had enough, “Guys! We’re not called ‘Johnston Fire Rescue,’ we’re ‘Johnston Fire.’ There’s no need to get more training, let’s just call in someone else to do the rescue.”

Tell me now, if you were in that burning house and heard the truck roll up and the water start flowing, but no one came in to pull you out, how long do you think you would last? Could you wait for more help to arrive?

The third guy continues, “By the time we’ve got the fire under control, the fire department from the next town is here anyway, let’s just let them handle it and we’ll focus on the fire.” The first one comes back again with this retort: “If we’re out here anyway, and we can help, we should be ready and willing to render that help until the other professional arrive. We don’t need to do much, we just need to be ready to help.”

cropped-computer-user-keyboard-mouse-hand.jpgIn another story, an IT Helpdesk tech is answering calls from all over his company from people needing their computers and phones to work on the company WiFi. The tech is excellent with getting computers connected, but isn’t familiar with iPhones. “Sorry bud, I only do PCs.” “Really?” The caller asks, “How am I supposed to work without my phone being on WiFi?”

Now, putting aside my personal beliefs about folks knowing how to work their own equipment before venturing out into public and fumbling, let’s ask ourselves how to solve this problem. Doesn’t it make sense for the tech to be encouraged by his manager to go to training to learn more about the devices that he might be asked to service in his organization?

Finally, let’s ask the question that everyone loves to hate being asked. Where do you see yourself in five years? Don’t you think that you’ll need to do something different in order to get from here to there? The same actions that got you to where you are now will not get you anywhere else but to here. Change your actions and you can change your world.

Let’s talk about me — let’s say I want to shift my career a bit and get back into design and improving human-computer interfaces. Wouldn’t it make sense to delve into tech magazines and go to seminars every once in awhile to stay on top of current trends and best practices. Yes, it does, and I do. Maybe you want to pull a Jon Acuff and Quit. Then Start. Then maybe even Do Over. What’s stopping you? Sometimes you have your hustle to lean on. Sometimes you have your skills, relationships or character to support you. You’ll need some of all of these things to succeed. Perhaps it’s time to invest more time in you — in your knowledge.

Take time for lifelong learning, choose to use those skills and keep them fresh.

In the next article, I’ll talk about goals and values. These are important things to know about yourself and your team — and they’ll help guide your communication and training, too. What goals do you have? What training could you spring for to help you get to the next place, or to the place you want to be in 5 years?

Go for it.