What Your Team Can Learn From Our 90-Pound Foster Dog

by | Jun 16, 2020

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.

Of all the accolades I’ve earned in my life, I’m particularly proud of an award I received last month.

Along with my daughters, we were named “Foster Family of the Month” from Fetch Wisconsin Rescue.

The girls have been asking me forever to get another pet. So in the middle of quarantine, when they were homeschooling and missing their friends and activities, they asked me again if we could get a dog. After watching our poor 14-year old cat tolerate them dressing her up in homemade face masks, because “they were sooooo bored!”, I finally agreed. 

With a caveat. That we get a foster dog.

A few weeks later, Sirius arrived. As in Sirius Black. He’s a one-and-a-half year old, Great Dane/labrador mix. Overnight, the girls became responsible for a 90-pound dog that was experiencing severe separation anxiety and had significant behavior issues. 

But he was also incredibly sweet, and we all fell in love with him immediately!

Suffice it to say, the work we did in between me agreeing to get a dog, and the day that Sirius arrived at our house, is what led to being Foster Family of the Month. Does that maybe surprise you to hear that the recognition was earned because of what we did before he even arrived? Read on.

One Reason Teams Struggle

When teams struggle, it’s often because people are not on the same page. Team members make assumptions and then get disappointed when their colleagues don’t do something the way they were expecting. 

The simple (though not always easy) solution is to discuss expectations before projects or meetings get started. This allows the team to identify clear outcomes and get on the same page on what will help things go well as well as how to handle challenges that arise.

The benefit (my daughters might say burden!) of having a mom that is an executive and team coach is that we are always communicating about expectations and strategizing our plan. My family is the most important team that I’m on, so you bet we’re going to use the skills that I know work with teams.

Designing our Dog Alliance

Before we submitted our foster application, we had a family team meeting. We made a list of everything we’d need to do to care for a dog. Things like: take him for a walk, feed him, give medications, clean up the poop in the yard, etc. The girls then divided the tasks between them and started drafting our Family Dog Alliance.

(I did not get any tasks because I set a very clear boundary that they would need to be responsible for everything. We’ll come back to this later.)

After the tasks were outlined, we discussed our expectations for having a dog. Since we’re currently all at home due to COVID, we agreed we could care for a dog. However, once we transition back to our crazy schedule of sporting events, meetings and never-ending activities, it wouldn’t be fair to the dog to be home alone. 

That’s where the fostering idea came in. That would give us the joy of having a dog – while we have the time – but not the very real, long-term commitment that comes with being the forever home for a pup. (There’s a reason we have cats!)

We then added this paragraph to the tasks we had previously written down:

 Training the dog is our responsibility as foster parents, and we must honor it. We all understand that we are not adopting a dog, but only fostering. Under NO circumstances will we ask mom to adopt our foster dog.

Everybody then signed the agreement, and we posted it on the refrigerator.

Putting our Alliance to the Test

In the case you’ve never had a 90-pound dog – who thinks he’s a lap dog – come to live with you, let me tell you something. The chaos begins right away. 

He was into everything, especially if food was involved. Slobber was everywhere. He liked to steal anything he shouldn’t have. He revolted when we tried to put him in his crate. He chewed through three collars and a harness in the first week. And anytime we sat down he humped us. I could go on. 

Thankfully we had our alliance. 

The girls each knew what their responsibilities were. There isn’t time for negotiating or arguing whose turn it is when Sirius is stealing dinner off the table.

When something wasn’t being done, and the dog needed to be fed or let out, I knew which of my daughters to ask. (Remember when I said they were responsible for the dog? Without a clear agreement, I likely would’ve just done it and then been annoyed…and eventually resentful.) 

More than once I’d hear, “That’s not my responsibility!” At that point, we’d go to the fridge, look at our agreement, and see who’s list the task was on. No arguments. 

Finally, we LOVE this dog. More than a few people have suggested this will be a #fosterfail. But we were crystal clear on the outcome from the very start. We’re training him and loving him to pieces until he finds his forever home. 

This alliance is what led to us being named Foster Family of the Month. There is no way we would’ve seen the success we have with Sirius if we weren’t all on the same page. He now goes in his crate on command (okay, usually!), sits and stays until we say “break”, no longer humps (that was a big win), and is way more comfortable and relaxed. We’ve even taught him to swim!

Additionally, had we waited to design our dog alliance until when Sirius was in the house, it never would have happened. There would’ve been no time and tensions were too high. 

Designing your Team’s Alliance

I see this with teams all the time. When everything is fine, it feels like there’s no need for a conversation. When the chaos begins, then they don’t discuss anything because they’re too busy!

Whether it’s for a one-time project or a longer working relationship, it is invaluable to have a conversation on how to work together. Here are some questions to discuss as a team:

  • What is the outcome we are working towards?
  • What will success look like?
  • What does everyone need to be successful?
  • What do we want to do when things get difficult?
  • What is each team member responsible for?

Sometimes people see these questions and think, “Well it’s obvious what the outcome is. We don’t need to talk about it.” I challenge you to ask the question of your team next time you think that. The responses might surprise you and will also save your team time later on (when you realize there wasn’t quite the alignment and clarity that you thought there was).

This is one of my favorite tools to use with teams because of the rich conversations it creates. The great news is, you can do the same with your team! And if you aren’t sure how or where to start, contact us to help you. It’s what we do. And we love what we do.

Good Luck!

P.S. Sirius is currently up for adoption. We know the perfect family is out there for him! If you’re curious, click here to learn about him as well as other foster dogs who are looking for their forever home.

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