The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for Building A Team Of Parachute Packers

Military parachute jump celebration

You may recall the old exercise that facilitators sometimes announced on team workshops. They said:

“This afternoon you will all be going on a parachute jump. But there is one condition.

“You are not allowed to pack your own parachute. You must choose somebody else in the team to do that job.

“So who will you pick to pack your parachute?”

The announcement was a joke, but it underlined a key point. It is vital to build a team of parachute packers. These are people who you can rely on to deliver the goods.

Imagine that you lead the team you work in at the moment. Here are some steps you can take to build a team of reliable people.

Clarifying where you
are
a parachute packer

Everybody is a parachute packer in some activities but not in others.

A person may be brilliant at fixing computers, counselling troubled people, cooking a banquet or whatever. They are absolutely reliable when performing certain tasks.

They may be poor, however, at other activities. They do not have the interest, the eye for detail or the ability to do them properly.

Consider yourself as a leader. Good leaders are not well rounded, but good leadership teams are well rounded. Bearing this in mind, it is important for you as a leader:

To build on your strengths.

To surround yourself with people who have complementary strengths.

What do you do superbly? You may be good at clarifying the strategy, communicating the vision, making tough decisions or whatever.

On the other hand, you may have little feeling or interest in technical detail, public relations or managing day-to-day operations.

What are the specific leadership activities you can be relied on to deliver? What are the strengths you need around you to ensure the team reaches its goals?

If you wish, try completing the following exercise. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific leadership activities in which you are a good parachute packer.

Describe the specific kinds of people you need around you – together with the strengths they can bring – to build a good team.

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Clarifying where other
people
are parachute packers

Let’s move on to the team. Looking at the individual people, what are the specific activities in which they can be relied upon to do fine work?

“Tackling this exercise was an eye-opener,” said one leader.

“My first response was to say there were many parachute packers in the team. But then I had second thoughts.

“Four people in the team were utterly reliable and loved their roles. Three people were reliable but somewhat frustrated in their roles. One person was simply not suited to the role or the team.

“Bearing this in mind, I made several decisions.

“I encouraged the four parachute packers to build-on and – if they wished – to expand their roles.

“I worked with the three frustrated people to help them to craft their perfect roles.

“Over the next few months we helped them grow in their roles and make even better contributions to the business.

“We also found ways to distribute the tasks they were no longer doing.

“The non-performer moved on and was replaced by a diligent person who wanted to do that role.”

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine that you lead your present team. Considering the various people in the team, the exercise invites you to do the following things.

Describe the people who are parachute packers and the specific things you can do to help them build on their strengths.

Describe the people who are parachute packers, but who may be frustrated in parts of their roles, and how you can help them to develop.

Describe the specific things you can do to get parachute packers to fill the roles that are not being performed properly.

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Building a team of
parachute packers

Leaders sleep easier at night when they have the right people implementing the right strategy in the right way. This calls for getting reliable people throughout the whole team.

The worst phrase to use with some leaders is ‘trust me’. They do not believe in trust, they believe in certainty.

They follow the maxim extolled by one of the Red Arrows flying team, who said:

“When turning right, we do not trust that everybody has turned right. We know that everybody has turned right.”

That is why leaders like parachute packers. They know the jobs will get done, so they therefore sleep easier at night.

Imagine you lead your present team. Looking at your answers to the exercise in the previous section, what decisions must you take to build a totally reliable team?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to build a team of parachute packers.

Describe the specific benefits of building such a team of parachute packers.

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