Problem Solving: Cowboys always have multiple problems to contend with, including (but certainly not limited to) how best to get the cows where they want them.
Adaptation (Change Management): Moving cows is a very dynamic job. Depending on the desired direction of the cattle, and the topography of the land, cowboys must change the amount of pressure they apply to certain parts of the herd. In addition to simply deciding the most direct route, a cowpuncher must also account for the lay of the land. Cows typically move more easily across flat areas, and certainly move easiest down- hill (which can be as hindering as helpful, depending on the ultimate destination). As the direction changes, so must the pressure. As important as where to put pressure is the question of where to remove pressure to enable forward progress thus preventing the inhibition of all movement. If a cowboy applies constant pressure to one point of the herd, with no regard for how the cattle are responding, he will most likely have a negative impact on the overall outcome of the drive. E.g. if the herd must make a right turn and the right side is blocked by a rider, the turn will not likely occur.
Because the herd is always moving, the landscape is continuously changing and the route is rarely a straight line from point A to point B, each rider as well as each team will be required to react and adapt to changes along the way. If the group cannot respond to the changes in a fluid manner the movement of the herd will become erratic and, in some cases, stop altogether. The group will always have to have a clear idea of the final goal and be willing and able to make whatever changes necessary to accomplish it.
Communication: Ten to twelve good cowboys can move 2,000 head all day without any yelling and just a few, concise conversations. Knowing their job and their teammate’s jobs as well as having a masterful knowledge of their environment, facilitate this. In this fashion, they are able to tell each other just what they need to know in very little time (before they lose the herd) without talking over each other’s heads or confusing each other.
So often communication is considered to be synonymous with talking, or in stressful situations, yelling. While speaking effectively is important, the groups in this exercise will be pushed to think of it as much more than speech and to focus on other key elements of communication as well. In order to improve communication in any environment, the first step is to be aware of the person or persons with whom you seek improved relations. One must be aware of many things, such as the other party’s; station/position, goals, motivation, problems/concerns etc. Watching and listening are as critical as speaking when seeking effective communication. The team that will be the most effective in this activity will be the one who has open lines of communication. They will watch each other closely and be ready to help or get out of the way as the situation warrants while continuing to attend to their individual duties. They will also, of course, speak freely. The members of the most effective team will readily ask for help when necessary and also offer it. Learning the fine lines that separate assertiveness and bossiness as well as cooperation and indecision are something that each group can hope to gain from this as well.
The group’s ability to communicate and coordinate will be directly reflected by the cattle and the manner in which they travel. If the cows are bunching frequently, losing formation or rarely going in one direction for any sustained period of time, then the group is most likely not communicating well (not watching each other, speaking to each other, listening to each other or a combination of the three).
Allocation of Resources: On any cattle drive there are better horses and better riders (one does not necessarily go with the other). In the heyday of the cattle driving era, cowboys were assigned positions based on who did each job best. While some liked to think that certain positions were more important or glorified than others, the truth was that not one cow would’ve left Texas without someone in each position. The Point riders gave the herd direction by delicately maneuvering the head of the herd, the Swing riders ensured that the herd stayed connected and uniform by moving up and down the herd, and the Drag riders made sure the older, sick, or infirm stayed with the herd as well as ensuring that the herd continued to move by applying constant pressure, giving the other positions the momentum necessary to perform their jobs.
Along with communication and problem solving, the group will have to take stock of its resources and quickly determine who is best suited for what jobs. Some riders/horses may be better suited for staying in the back (drag) ensuring a steady progress while others may be better suited to move in and out quickly (as needed) to control the direction or appearance of the herd. Glory seekers and non-team players will be quickly identifiable if they are unable to check their egos or rise to the occasion for the benefit of the team.