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What You Can Learn from Geese

I read recently that teamwork is much rarer in our organisations than we tend to think. Apparently, most of our managers don't think it is either necessary for people to commit themselves to group goals or possible for them to give feedback and support to each other without being told.

A pity that, especially as we know that teamwork works wonders in nature. If you have ever seen a flock of geese, you'll know what I mean.

Why Geese Fly as a Team

Consider the following:

1. Geese don't fly in a V-shaped formation just because it looks good. They do it because it protects the members of the flock, conserves energy and allows them to cover more distance. A classic example of high team and task concern.

2. As the bird in front flies forward, it leaves a gap behind it called a vortice. This means that its teammates have less air resistance to fly against. A great example of putting teammates first.

3. When the bird in front gets tired, it moves to the back of the V and all the other birds move up, so that everyone gets a turn at leading and others get to take on other roles. That's in-built versatility and flexibility.

4. The formation allows all the birds to keep an eye on each other and to cover up to 71% more flying distance than if they were on their own. A case of win-win all round.

5. Whenever a bird flies out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag of going it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. A fine way to remind anyone who fancies going it alone of what they'd be missing.

6. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. A true illustration of leading from behind.

7. When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot, two geese drop out of line and follow their fellow member to help and provide protection. They stay with their colleague until it recovers or dies. Then they launch out on their own with another formation or re-join their own flock.

What Workplace Teams Can Learn from Geese

We often use this geese analogy on our ManageTrainLearn Teambuilding courses. From it, we pull out the following lessons that are as valid for great teams of people as they are for great flocks of geese.

a. look after each other. It's the only way to survive as a team.

b. take your turn to lead. Put another way, take your turn to be responsible for where the team is going.

c. have a break now and again and let others carry you just as you will carry them when they're tired.

d. when one of the team falls out, don't stick to what you know and can do. If the team needs it, move to a new position and fit in.

e. if you want to get to your goal, stay in formation for as long as it takes. Only when everyone does their bit is the formation maintained and the goal achieved.

f. give feedback and encouragement to each other. Don't be afraid to speak up and don't be afraid to hear what others are saying.

g. when someone is in trouble, go to their help even if it means you have to catch up later on.

I always remember a survey from many years ago that found that the one thing people missed most when they left a job was not the work, nor the pay, but the team.

Teamwork is special. It's one of the few things you get for free when you join an organisation. It has the potential to be your most memorable experience of organisational life.

Just ask the geese.