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Columnist: H. James Harrington

Photo: Scott Paton, publisher


Horsing Around

A parable about teamwork



The sun shone brightly on Farmer John’s apple orchard. Big, juicy apples were ripening to a shiny, bright red. Farmer John thought, “This is going to be my best crop ever.” His daughter Ruth was already busy picking the brightest, ripest apples and putting them in the baskets her brother Joe had stacked high on a big wagon.

Joe piled the baskets up high so all the apples picked in a day could be taken to the barn in one trip. As Joe led Lady Lucy, one of the farm’s horses, to the wagon, he realized that the load was too heavy for her to handle by herself. So he fetched Big Blackie as well, because he knew that Lucy and Blackie together could pull the load to the barn.

As soon as Joe hitched Lucy and Blackie to the wagon--one horse at either end--and yelled, “Giddyap,” both horses started pulling as hard as they could. Joe cracked his whip over their heads to encourage them. Both were pulling with all their might, but the wagon didn’t move. Then Farmer John yelled, “Whoa,” and told Joe to hitch both horses to the wagon’s front end. Joe connected the team to the front yoke--facing them in opposite directions--and yelled, “Giddyap.” Both horses started to pull at the same time. Lucy pulled as hard as she could, and so did Blackie. Joe cracked his whip twice over Lucy’s head and once over Blackie’s tail. Now and then the wagon would move a few feet forward and then a few feet backward. Farmer John yelled, “Whoa,” and said, “Joe, the team needs to face in the same direction.”

Joe connected Lucy and Blackie so they faced in the same direction and again yelled, “Giddyap.” By now Lucy was thirsty and took off to the right, heading for the pond. Blackie was hungry and took off to the left, toward the sweet green pasture. Both horses pulled, but they made no progress. Then Lucy decided she’d like some green grass before she got a drink, so she went along with Blackie to the pasture. After eating their fill, they both pulled in the same direction and got a long drink at the pond. They were working as a team, but the apples still weren’t getting to the barn.

Farmer John realized that he had to define the team’s “mission”--to move the apples from orchard to barn--and make sure that Joe, Lucy and Blackie all understood it. But the next trip was also disorganized--the team took off to eat some grass, had a drink, ate more grass, got another drink and ambled over to see Joe’s girlfriend, Joan. Then off they went to the barn to deliver the apples just as the sun set.

Farmer John wasn’t happy. It was taking all day to make one trip to the barn. As a result, he told Joe, Lucy and Blackie that he was going to measure the time it took them to get to the barn. The next day he calculated that it took them five hours. When he asked why it took all that time, Joe explained that the road was blocked because the bridge needed to be repaired, and they had to go the long way around to the barn. After Farmer John fixed the bridge and removed the roadblock, it took the team three hours to move the apples to the barn. Farmer John still thought this was too long. He noted that the team continued to stop by the pond to get a drink and at the pasture to get something to eat. Farmer John decided to put water and clover in the barn. After that, the team went directly to the barn.

It now took only two hours to get to the barn, which was satisfactory to Farmer John, but he thought he could use the team concept to get them there even faster. So he challenged the team to continuously improve. Each time the team reached the barn in 30 minutes, Lucy and Blackie got two scoops of oats, and Joe got to use the family car for one hour. With the reward system in place, the team averaged 22 minutes per trip, the horses enjoyed their oats, and Joe enjoyed picking up Joan every other Saturday and taking her to the big barn dance. With only a few minutes of instruction from Farmer John, the team of three was finally working together.

The moral of the story:

When the work is too much for one, a team can make the difference.

Teams succeed if they know which end of the wagon should move forward.

Teams work when they have an agreed-upon mission.

Teams work when they take all members’ needs into consideration.

Teams work when management removes roadblocks to progress.

Teams work when their output can be measured.

Teams work when they’re challenged, rewarded and supported.

Teams must be trained to work together.

When we work together toward a common goal, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

About the author
H. James Harrington is CEO of the Harrington Institute Inc. and chairman of the board of Harrington Group. He has more than 45 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 22 books. Visit his Web site at www.harrington-institute.com.