Teamwork — Can Lessons from Geese Be Foul?

At my place of work we have a great set of core values to guide how we relate to each other, to our clients (seniors) and to others with whom we come in contact (vendors, the wider community, etc.).  The values are creativity, fairness, openness, respect and teamwork.  I am most sincere when I say that this is an excellent aspect of who we are.  These are superb values to guide how we do our work.

In our training on the value of “Teamwork” the session was oriented around lessons that can be learned about the flying behaviors of geese.  There are numerous good lessons to learn and apply.  But few analogies are perfect.  There are also things that trouble me.

Among the positive points that were made:  As the birds fly in their V formation they create uplift and drafting that enables them together to fly much farther than if they were flying individually.  When the lead goose, the one fighting the most resistance, gets tired it drops back and another moves into the point position.  The geese honk in encouragement and to convey that the formation is still in place.  If a goose becomes sick or injured several other geese drop out of formation with it to provide protection and aid.

These are great lessons and applications for workplace teamwork, yes?  Maybe.

Sure, it is necessary to have a common direction and purpose.  It is often useful to share demanding tasks and even leadership.  We need to call out the gifts of and present challenges to our co-workers.  Working together enables things to get done more quickly.  That’s all great.

But what about when it’s easier to “go with the flow” of the formation rather than buck the wind?  There’s a real danger of group-think (group-honk?), of a lot of flock following and head-nodding assent.  Just as it’s useful to “think outside the box,” can it be significant to “fly outside the V”?

These seemingly simple truths, these lessons from geese, can also discourage creative thinking and minority viewpoints.  It is so much easier, quicker and less problematic to fly along with the group, content in the common direction and the low resistance.  But what if we’re not taking the best direction?  What if we’re overlooking something?  What if we’re not listening to other perspectives?  What if we’re just drafting along rather than truly taking flight?

And what if someone, goose or guy, leaves the “V” and no one else provides support?  If one shares a different point of view and there is no support, or at least attentive, receptive listening, there is a real danger that this can create a climate where everyone becomes less likely to speak up, question and openly discuss.  A gagged gaggle of geese.

Our teamwork, our interdependence, needs to truly call out each other’s gifts, encourage each other’s contributions, challenge our potential, allow for failure, and protect the other’s point of view.  Real teamwork values varying perspectives and uses them to refine the direction, mold the collaboration, motivate the flight toward excellence and live the vision.  Dare to fly outside the V.

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