Keeping teams in line and working toward a single goal is a huge challenge; not everyone is cut out to build teamwork! My friend Roxy has an executive assistant sent from the heavens. She’s proactive, efficient, detailed, and can amazingly manage to connect multiple departments at one meeting. A professional cat herder. In fact, when Roxy’s assistant talks about her job, she says with humor (and maybe a little pride too!) that she herds cats for a living “and Roxy, by far, is my biggest cat.” 

But what may seem like a funny joke is incredibly valuable. Roxy actually pursued her assistant Jennifer and negotiated with other execs in the organization in order to get Jennifer to work for her team. Why? Because Roxy (and Jennifer!) know the value of being able to herd cats successfully. The ability to organize people – with their own ideas and agendas – around a common goal is an extraordinarily hard task! It takes finesse.  

But, cat herding isn’t just for the business world!

Ever tried to coach 5-year-old soccer? Half of the team is chasing the ball – blindly kicking at each other, another kid is playing in the dirt, a handful are crying, and about a third have wandered off the field for a snack. Finding someone with humor, patience and vision that can create a pride of lions out of a basket of kittens is an invaluable asset! 

The best cat herders bring competitors and sometimes adversaries, together and turn them, at least temporarily, into team players. These people can bring a committee to focus on the end-game and not the pit stops. It’s about killer negotiation skills and savvy people politics. Without someone who can traffic projects, deadlines and people, important projects quickly go off track. 

Whether you’re a business leader or running a soccer team, you need a cat herder. Achieving goals isn’t a one-person show! If you can’t be the cat herder, you need an assistant coach or executive support. So, what should you look for in a professional herder? Or, how can you bring out the amazing magical herder in yourself

Here’s three ways to bring out the best in those cat-like personalities:  
  1. Know the loners.Cats aren’t known to run in packs. And some people don’t play well in groups either, especially competitive teams. The value of collaboration cannot be understated – and a professional cat herder is really good at making even the lone lion see that you get bigger rewards when you work together. Create space and time for the loners to process their thoughts and formulate a response. Set a schedule, “I’d like feedback by COB on Wednesday,” instead of “Let me hear your thoughts right now.” 
  2. Balls of yarn. Like cats, some people just don’t seem to care. Cat herding is about people first, not projects, so make it your goal to keep everyone engaged. Projects unravel fast if communication and connections are lost, so focus on getting everyone to have a stake in the gameEstablish some rules, a note taker and objectives. Review them often and in a variety of ways. Ask frequently, “How does that relate to our objective?” or “Have we accomplished this task?” 
  3. Playing with the laser pointer. We live in a world with a lot of distractions. It takes enormous discipline to stay focused and on-task. That’s where cat herders shine. They are able to see the big picture – they hold the laser pointer – instead of chasing the light around. Instead it’s their job to use the laser pointer to keep the team moving forward toward the project goal. Cat-herding meetings are run by really well-prepared people! Send an agenda out well in advance, ask for feedback and edits to the agenda, keep the meetings brief and moving forward at all timesCorral the cats with mini activities within the meeting like breaking into groups. And always end on time with a clear set of action items!   

Let’s face it, we aren’t all cut out to gather the masses, keep their attention, hold them accountable and still be well-liked and respected. But if that’s YOU, go out and let that cat-herding quality shine, my friend! You are one of the most valuable friends, employees, managers, committee chairs, etc. to have!