Pulling in the Same Direction

When I was a lad, one of the summer jobs I picked up was working on a hay crew.  Now this was in the days before the large round bales and huge block bales that you see today.  Bales of hay were a smaller block size and could typically weigh between 60 – 80 pounds, depending upon the grass that was cut and how much moisture was in there. 

A hay crew would consist of someone who drove the tractor that pulled the wagon, a stacker or two who stacked the bales on the wagon, and several throwers who would walk alongside and chuck the bales up to the stackers.  In my day, you may get 5-10 cents for each bale.  We would stack the wagon as high as we could without tipping over the bales, then haul the hay to a barn to store the bales in.  It was not the most pleasant job in the hot and humid Missouri summer. 

The job required teamwork.  If the driver was going too fast, it was too hard for the rest of the team to catch up.  If he jerked the wagon a bit, the bales could fall.  If the stackers did not stack bales fast enough, the structure would likely fall.  If the throwers did not follow the right pace, it would take longer to get the job completed.

One very frustrating summer day, my cousin, Jim, was driving the tractor for our hay crew.  This job took a lot more time than it needed to in the 100 degree and 95% humidity of that fine Missouri summer day.  Jim jerked the tractor a lot, causing the stackers to fall and tipped over the bale structure.  He also ran one side of the tractor in a ditch that was a few feet deep.  This also did not do any favors for the crew.  After completing a job in six hours that should have taken half of that time, Jim pulled the wagon into my Uncle Bob’s barnyard for us to unload. 

Our task was to first move bales that had dried on the side of the barn, up to the second floor of the loft, then replace those bales with the ones we had just pulled from the field.  Bob had a large beam that protruded out from an opening in the loft.  Bales could be attached at the bottom and pulled from the bottom through a pulley contraption to go up to the loft where other people could unload them.  That way we did not have to hold bales over our heads when we walked up a ladder.

Uncle Bob’s pulley contraption was tough to use.  We grunted and pulled; then pulled and grunted some more, but we never could get the bales to zip up to the top as we had seen our uncles and fathers do.  We must have worked for an hour on this when Uncle Bob came in from another barn where he had been shearing sheep.  After about ten minutes of watching us and chuckling, he finally said, “Boys, you are not pulling in the same direction.  If you flip this lever (and he showed us the lever), this system will work together so when both of you pull on the bottom the bales will zip up to the top!”

So, the problem had been the operators!  Once the levers were in the right place, it was easy for two of us on the ground to yank on the ropes and make the bales soar to the second story.  We finished moving those bales in record time.

I thought of that story this weekend during a business retreat.  During that time, it became evident that in some ways, our group was not pulling in the same direction.  It kind of reminds me of people rowing in different directions in a boat.  You tend to exert a lot of effort and just go in circles. 

So, alignment is important in any group, family, or organization.  We need to align our mission, values, and vision to how our day to day work is executed.  We need departments pulling in the same directions in our organization toward a common goal.  We need to make sure we are all following the plan in our families or chaos may ensue.  Otherwise, we will exert a lot of effort, and have a lot of activity, but not accomplish great things as we are pulling against each other. 

Another way to think of this is a picture from the book of Ecclesiastes that states “a three-fold cord is not easily broken.”  Now if each strand of that cord is placed separately from the others, the individual strings can be severed.  But cutting the rope is harder if all cords are in alignment and intertwined with each other.

The lesson here is to ask yourself where in the organization, the business, or the family is there a lack of alignment?  How can we get back to pulling together instead of against each other?