On January 3, 1864, the Grafton, an English schooner piloted by Captain Thomas Musgrave, was destroyed by a hurricane that broke its anchor chains and sunk it on the rocky beach on the southern end of Auckland Island. The captain and his crew of four men made it to shore but not to safety. Auckland Island, after all, is one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with freezing rain, howling winds, and little to eat year round. On May 10th of the same year, the Invercauld, an Aberdeen clipper piloted by Captain George Dalgarno, was struck by a heavy gale and driven between two steep cliffs on the northern side of Auckland Island and sunk. Nineteen of the twenty five men aboard the Invercauld made it ashore, unaware that the survivors of the Grafton’s crew were living on the other side of the island.
The survivors of the Grafton chose to abandon formalities and adopted group problem solving and decision making. Conversely, the survivors of the Invercauld retained the formal hierarchy that served them so well on the high seas. Although the challenges to survive were quite similar, the outcomes for these two crews could not have been more different. The crew of the Grafton worked together to find food and water, consulted with and looked after one another, constructed shelter, and contributed to their rescue by building a vessel and setting out to sea where they were found by Captain Cross of the Flying Scud. The crew of the Invercauld, on the other hand, fought and bickered, lost 16 of the 19 crewmembers to cold or hunger, descended into cannibalism, and ultimately, were found only by chance.
For all the talk today about the power of collaboration, flattening organizations, and valuing everyone’s strength and potential contribution, there are still many leaders who are hesitant to let go of the “command and control” mindset. You know the type. They are in charge, you’re not, and what they say goes. Everyone has their place in the hierarchy and theirs is at the top. After all, they’ve earned it. They’ve paid their dues, done their time, and now they get to issue orders.
The results of such leaders’ unwillingness to share power, set aside their self-interest and engage those around them in the process of pursuing a collective purpose, speak for themselves:
…..And people are left feeling as though they must fend for themselves.
What’s the remedy? Strive to build a team with a common purpose, shared performance goals, and a keen sense of mutual accountability for outcomes. Begin by:
– Promoting understanding of why a group of diverse people need to be a team. You accomplish this by helping everyone understand the team’s goals and communicating what each team member contributes to the team’s overall success.
– Facilitating effective interaction in such a way as to ensure good problem solving, decision making and coordination of effort.
– Ensuring the team has adequate knowledge to accomplish its task. This includes information relevant to the team’s goals and individual job competencies.
– Establishing common goals that are simple, measurable and clearly relevant to the team’s task. Understanding and working toward these common goals as a unit is crucial to the team’s effectiveness.
– Making collaboration a core competency. In effective teams you’ll notice a strong desire to collaborate and a keen awareness of interdependency. Focusing on collaboration and interdependency will increase commitment by defusing blaming behavior and stimulating opportunities for learning and growth.
Remember, a willingness to participate collaboratively as a team member does not guarantee an easy journey. However, as the success of the Grafton crew demonstrates first-hand, when a leader is willing to create an environment in which everyone on the team is intent on looking after one another, contribute to a shared purpose, and selflessly serve those around them, anything is possible.
. . . even if one day you find yourself stranded on one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with freezing rain, howling winds, and little to eat year round.