Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Are You a Pushmi or a Pullyu?

Book cover for Doctor Dolittle Meets the Pushmi-Pullyu

Have your ever felt like you were on the most amazing team in the worldthe Pushmi-Pullyu team? I know I have, and the results can be extremely frustrating or downright amazing!

For those of you that don't know, I am referring to the animal from Hugh Lofting's book Dr. Dolitte. The animal could be described as a conjoined pair of llamasa rare animal for sure. Unfortunately, as rare as conjoined twins are in the animal kingdom, I don't think the concept is that rare when referring to teams. In fact, I would go as far as to say that every team is like the Pushmi-Pullyu.

So where am I going here? A team works most efficiently when it moves in one direction with elegance and flow. Most of the time, however, the team is dominated by either a Pushmi or a Pullyu. The direction the team heads depends on the actions of the Pushmi or Pullyu. The Pushmi-Pullyu may have two heads, but one body. The team either go forward (or backwards, depending on the situation) or nowhere at all.

Identifying the Pushmi and the Pullyu

By looking at a Pushmi-Pullyu, one cannot tell which head is the Pushmi and which is the Pullyu. I venture a guess that either head can be the other at any given time.

A Pushmi is an individual(s) who either pushes those into action ahead of them or pushes those from behind in back of them.  They may say, "move forward or get out of the way" or "get going."

The Pullyu is the other head of the same body. They are either doing the pulling or being pulled. Whether heading for the future or stuck in the past, you will know a Pullyu when you experience it.

The identity of the team is determined by the perspectives of the team members and the intent of the dominate head. You are either being pushed, pulled or in a standoff. You may be accepting of change or fearful of it. You may dig your heels in or give up all together and be pulled along.


The wildland fire service needs Pushmi-Pullyu teams with synergy. Teams that aren't afraid of failure. Teams with leaders who provide clear intent for their team to follow and the encouragement and care needed to move forward. They need teams with vision and members who work together to move in one direction.

Missions will fail, but resilient Pushmi-Pullyu teams will pick themselves up, dust their heads off, and move themselves forward one hoof at a time.

About the Author: Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.


Bob Kittridge said...

Well said....

Bob Kittridge said...

Well said and really hits to the point of team synergy.