The Beautiful Mess of Teaming

This year’s count is officially at 10 for me today. Every year, I count the formations of geese I encounter because we are at a feeding juncture on their migration route. It’s not uncommon for us to see fields of Canada Geese numbering in the 100s, all feeding in the cut fields of farmers’ corn harvests. But at November 3rd, this is a very late migration this year; the usual count at this time is 30-40 formations, if not more.

While it may not be evident that geese in flight might be at different elevations from each other, they really are. For instance, the flock of geese in the right photo looks somewhat aligned in their “V” formation, yet you can see the elevation differences by noticing the flatness of the landscape in the background as opposed to the V formation. But what’s happening in the picture on the right? This looks like a mess! How can they be flying so tightly and not knock each other out of the sky with their wings and bodies? (And not for the faint of heart, we offer this link to watch 7000 geese taking flight at nearly the same time – breathtakingly beautiful – or check out this murmuration of starlings get interrupted by a competing murmuration of geese . Hey, “murmuration” was a new word for me, too – I have to use it three times to make it “mine”!)

It’s the elevation height differences between geese that can help thousands of them take flight within seconds of each other without mishap. Layers upon layers of geese take off at strategic times, always from the back of the flock to the front; timing creates the strategic takeoff. What initially looks like a melee, straightens out within seconds as each bird finds its own slipstream space off the bird ahead of it which is also usually at a lower elevation from it. These now air-borne geese find their own groups and start to differentiate themselves in air; initial strength, forward; timed and sequential strength, farther back but ready to take over when the leader needs recuperation. Backstream becomes front stream; front stream becomes backstream numerous times during their migration flights. Handed off continually. Think of this: these large formations must get into that formation in the water first, from back to front, so that they can launch at the proper time.

Does this have any type of human reference for us as we work inside our organizations? Yes! In teams, we find this initial strength/sequential strength play out in our work with each other. Our teams are strategically shaped when we know when we should become the leaders in our work together, or when others are more equipped to be the leaders. And there is no “loss of leadership” if we hang back in the fold where others are known to be stronger than ourselves. This actually enhances the team and superimposes the additional leadership capabilities to bring things over the finish line. It’s healthy.

I’m involved in three global teams; each team is differentiated by what we are bringing to life, as well as our components of leadership, and our phases of involvement:

  • Team 1: With two teammates in Belgium, another in Connecticut, and myself in Minnesota – we are creating the TeamAcumen™ Framework which will be launched in June 2023. Based on white paper research and taking into account all of the current and older models of team development, with this Framework, we can identify the exact failure/fracture points of any team and then give them the exact learning they need to fix their problem points. Of our own team, we’ve realized these same valuable lessons as we bring this to market. Each of us has our own strong leadership qualities, but we realize that it’s the collective possibilities of all of us together which will create the best framework. The ebb and flow of leadership is supremely fluid in our team and we give each other deference during our work, valuing what each of us contributes in our own spheres of strength. We’ve been on this journey for two years – we adore each other but know we have some toe-stubbing areas too. It makes us even more effective as a team to know this and work out our kinks. We have yet to meet in person, but as we near our finish line, we’re making plans to meet for our very first time. And we can’t wait!
  • Team 2: Teammates in Germany, Australia, Canada, and the US – we are testing areas of Teal development from each of our organizations. The build is real and we are still in the throes of understanding where each of us contributes leadership. We are no less committed to the process than my Team 1 teammates, but we are just at the 2nd phase of our exploration.
  • Team 3: Teammates from Sweden, the Middle East, and the US – we think we can create something great together, but our growth as teammates hasn’t yet begun. Until we can truly understand each person’s areas of best contribution or learn each other’s pain points, we will not be able to move forward as a team. With so much potential, we are just at the very beginning of our team development journey and it will take some time to get past our ungainliness period. We’ve yet to understand if we can surmount obstacles to go forward. Are we as committed as Team 1? We don’t know yet.

Understanding our phases of teaming helps us know when to lead or when to follow, with no loss in leadership – this is a critical point. As we build Teal teams, learning how to meld, give deference to each other, let others lead, and let ourselves lead when it is time; these are the curious aspects of teaming we can learn from our geese friends. All of it without a loss of leadership potential. In fact, these kinds of teams create Advanced Team Potential. This is what we call “Team Agility” inside internal teams, and “Co-Creation” in cross-functional, horizontal, vertical, or diagonal teams with or without external members.

The lesson of our feathered friends is never lost on us lowly human beings; they’ve just learned these lessons at a higher elevation and in more massive numbers than we have – yet. (This is already known among F-16 Fighter Pilots, some of whom follow me on LinkedIn, so I’m giving you huge kudos! You are leap years ahead of us “normal” humans!)