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Hooves Dust & High Performing Teams

Updated: May 15, 2021

I have been reflecting on leadership and team dynamics while observing the paddock dramas that unfolded as Peggy Sue, a lovely big quarter horse, joined us at Salta Horses recently.

It reminded me of psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s article of 1965 which describes the familiar pathway that new teams often follow to high performance, of forming, storming, norming and performing. Tuckman added a fifth stage of adjourning or mourning as teams sometimes come to an end due to the completion of a project or for other reasons.

Initial equine introductions over the fence were somewhat polite but it didn’t take long for the dust to stir up once Peggy Sue moved in with her new companions Ben, Tawny and Chaska. This time was not without its white-knuckle moments as hooves and teeth flew at unpredictable moments, although not while I was amongst them.

It is hard to define exactly when things settled down but increasingly harmonious interludes amongst the four began to emerge. Eventually it appeared that all of them operated together with shared understandings of who stands where under the trees, who gets to drink from the water race first etc. They still have their moments, but these are now few and they resolve relatively quickly.

Today I can trust that my horses know their jobs. They know how to work together when they are interacting with me and my clients and they feel like a cohesive team. Maybe we are performing!

So this is what the horses taught me about how leaders can support their team along the pathway to high performance:

  • Reassure yourself that these stages are often central to team development.

  • Hold the space for your team while they work at coming together.

  • Communicate clearly about organisational values, purpose and expectations.

  • Build trust by creating opportunities for team members to get to know each other.

  • Respond where appropriate to facilitate resolution when conflicts show up.

  • Encourage and acknowledge individual and team strengths as they emerge.

  • Watch out for flying hooves and choking dust.....and trust that it will settle!

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