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A little over a month ago, we embarked on building a sauna. This sauna was ordered online, all 2500 pounds of it delivered in a crate on a pallet that we had to disassemble and carry up our driveway by hand because the delivery guy couldn’t get up our drive.

That was the first of many of what we’ll call “challenges.”

Throughout, my husband and I kept commenting on how this experience was one example after another in leadership and teamwork. 

I share those lessons here, so that you do not have to build your own sauna and experience these challenges for yourself. These are truths that are already deeply engrained in how I work and lead, many of which I talk about in this blog and in my work, but it’s always good to have them reinforced.

Plan. Prepare. Plan. Plan some more. But expect that something will go sideways. The better you plan, the easier you can adjust and adapt.

  • We read through the instructions — which make IKEA instructions look Pulitzer Prize-worthy — multiple times. We planned our sequence of work. We staged. And multiple times it went sideways. However, because we’d planned so diligently, we were able to adapt. 

If what you’re attempting is something new to you, it will take you far longer than you expect. Build that into your plan.

  • This is especially true if it requires many, many trips to the hardware store on the other side of town.

Be clear about everyone’s part on the team. Flex as needed, but establish clarity around who is responsible for what.

  • The primary project team was me, my husband, and my brother, with some additional help from my sister-in-law. It was a small-ish space, so we had to be clear about who was doing what. Amazingly we stuck to our roles and didn’t get in each other’s way, which no doubt made a slow process a bit faster.

Be honest about what you don’t know, and ask for help as soon as you need it.

  • When something didn’t make sense to us, we didn’t mess around trying to figure it out. I reached out for help to the seller and another friend who has built this sauna. Doing so without delay avoided mistakes and sped up the process.

 Time is money. Outsource what you can. Experts are experts for a reason.

  • In our case, outsourcing the whole thing would have been best. We couldn’t do that. So we hired an electrician for the power (required!). And we “outsourced” to the local equipment rental store and rented a roofing nail gun. It was 100% worth the $46 it cost to rent the nail gun versus nailing each shingle on by hand. Time is money.

Collaborate on challenges, get feedback, and get creative with your solutions.

  • I’ll be honest: there were definitely some epic fights that had to do with being exhausted and exasperated more than anything else. However, when we approached a problem with curiosity (“What if we tried this?”) and thoughtful feedback (“I’m concerned that might not work because of this.”) we were able to collaboratively solve issues that arose.

Sometimes the best solution is not necessarily the most elegant.

  • We did our best to follow instructions and gently mallet in the last piece. Wasn’t happening. We called a friend (ask for help!), and he stood on top and jumped up and down until it was done. Not elegant but certainly effective. 

Allow people to try new things and step out of their comfort zone. Be gentle with their mistakes.

  • Construction of any kind is not my thing, but I wanted to be part of this process. My husband and brother were patient in showing me how to do certain jobs and helped me figure out how to fix my mistakes. I had to be open to their instruction. That’s how I learned, and I picked up new skills along the way.

Respect others’ boundaries. 

  • Years ago I burned my hand when I tried to change the bit on a drill. I won’t try again. My husband is always happy to change the bit for me, and then hand it over to me to use. He knows why I’m afraid to change the bit, and respects that boundary. There are some tasks that people on our teams just don’t want to do, often for very good reasons. If there is someone else who can do it without impacting the team, let them.

As long as it’s safe, it doesn’t have to be perfect (with obvious exceptions).

  • I could walk you around the sauna and point out every flaw. You’d likely never notice them on your own, as the flaws don’t impact the usefulness of the sauna. You’d probably just be impressed, and hopefully ready to enjoy it. How often do we fixate on and delay for perfection when perfection isn’t necessary for meaningful use?

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again. But at least you can learn from it and say you did it once.

  • This reminded me of the two years I spent as the SVP of HR, my first time in a generalist HR role. I learned a ton and I’m glad I did it. I never want to do it again. I also never want to build a sauna again. Good news: I don’t have to do either.
How Building a Sauna Is a Masterclass in Teamwork & Leadership | Cynthia Farrell | 110 West Group

Building this sauna was years of leadership and teamwork best practices compressed into a handful of weekends. I’m sure that some of these will make it into the examples I give when I’m discussing these topics 

After all these lessons, there’s one more that is just as important and so easy to forget.

Celebrate the milestones. 

Yes, there is still work to do, some varnishing and caulking and staining. But it’s 100% usable. Once we got it to that point, I popped some bubbly to celebrate, and the next night I fired it up and enjoyed the sauna for the first time. This was a HUGE milestone. I didn’t have to wait until it was perfect to celebrate.

And on your next project/initiative/career achievement, neither do you.

(Hey, if you’ve gotten this far, did you see the visitor in the photo?)

#teamwork #leadership #leadershiplessons

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