What is your team’s ‘V’ formation

THERE are numerous lessons that leaders can get from various places in society.

Sam Hlabati

One of the sources of leadership lessons is nature, which has species that are self- organising for their continued survival. Have you realised that the reason most species become extinct is mostly due to the interference of the self — organising element by humankind.

In this instalment, we will look at the leadership lessons that leaders can get from geese. Geese are fascinating creatures that have a strong sense of teamwork that manifests in family and group loyalty.

The one thing that geese are known to do is to return to their place of birth, so strong is their desire that they will fly several thousand kilometres every year just to do that. Let us look at the teamwork facts about geese, and draw organisational lessons from them.

When geese are in flight, they form a “V” formation. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow behind it in the flight formation. When a goose leaves the “V” formation, it will feel the resistance of the air and the difficulties of flying alone, forcing it to quickly come back to the formation to take advantage of the flock’s power in front of it.

By flying in V formation, the whole flock adds up to seventy one percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. There is greater value in the whole than in the sum of the parts.

In an organisational environment, a team that shares a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

What is your team team’s “V” formation that will get them to feel the advantages of working together, making it undesirable for members to work in silos.

It would be worthwhile to consider having shared goals in the team, which require the combined efforts of the members to achieve goals. You could also take the “V” as ensuring that your team has the same “V”alues.

Business thinking
It is important for an organisation to identify the team members whose business thinking is focused on where the organisational is geared to go towards, and then ensure that they help the others in leading the business to where it is supposed to go to. There is an element of intra – organisational learning that should be fostered within the “V” formation; thus team members should be willing to accept the help of others and to give help to others.

Remember we said that the “V” formation is designed in such a way that each goose has another goose in front of it; this means that at the apex of the formation there is a lead-goose.

The lead- goose has no other goose in front of it, therefore it take the wind “raw” and create the aerodynamics that will allow the geese behind it to create better flying conditions all the way down to the last goose on each side of the “V” formation. The lead-goose will obviously get tired much faster than the rest of the flock. When the lead-goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

With the tired lead goose rotating back into the formation, this will allow another goose to take the leadership position. The lesson for the organisational leader is to empower others to also lead. Micro-managing and keeping tight control will burn the leader out, and will also disengage and demotivate the team.

There is nothing as killing for team performance than a leader who thinks that they should lead in everything and have the last say even in matters that their team members could better.

The easiest way to allow a skilled subordinate to lead without taking the reins from the de-facto appoint leader is to create a project team that will be managed by a skilled team member, whilst the appointed organisational leader takes an oversight role as the project sponsor. People have unique skills, capabilities, and gifts to offer.

Team members need to be given autonomy, trust and a chance to shine, and I bet every leader will be surprised with the outcomes.

The organisational lesson is that when a person does not have the skill for a particular task, they should not just lead just because they are the appointed lead-goose, they should fall back into formation and allow those with the right skills to lead. I am not advocating for leaders to abdicate their leadership roles; the point is that the leader should allow the team members with specialised skills to take the lead in task that require those skills; as project leaders.

Honking to each other
The other lesson we can learn here is to develop a culture of humility in the team for members to admit the challenges they face and to seek help as soon as they get stuck, such humility will enable the team and the organisational to move faster and accomplish more.

Flying in a “V” formation increases the visibility as every goose can see what is happening in front of them. In an organisational context, there is a need to create “V”isibility in both organisational chart directions. Having top-down “V”isibility enables leaders to stay connected with the organisation to make better informed decisions. On the other hand, bottom-up “V”isibility enables employees to see the bigger picture, which in turns helps in their engagement, empowering them for better alignment with the organisational objectives.

While it is not always possible to hear from the ground, geese are actually a noisy bunch when flying in the “V” formation. There are several theories of why this is, one theory is the geese honk to encourage each other, because the geese know that the speed of the flock’s flight is determined by the speed of the goose in front of the flock. The geese flying in the formation honk to encourage those in front to keep up their speed. In organisational teams where there is encouragement, the production is bound to be greater.

The team leader should make sure that the team’s “honking” is encouraging, particularly to those that are taking the pace-setting function. It is not disputable that for a team to be effective, members should always communicate with one another, offering encouragement as needed, and always communicating when something is not right. This can be likened to the way lean companies “pull the Andon cord” when a problem arises.

Andon cords are a fixture in auto factories, draped over lines like Christmas decorations. The idea is that workers pull the cord to alert co-workers when a problem crops up so they can get help. If the glitch persists, workers may even stop the line to troubleshoot. The Andon cords were used by Toyota for decades until recently, as they are now being replaced by alert buttons serving the same “honking” purpose.

Core values
A “honking” lesson for organisations is to make sure that criticism and praise are given when they are due. Dearth of recognition is one of the key reasons team members will be unsatisfied at work and eventually quit. It is quite easy for team members’ efforts to go unnoticed by their peers in a busy and fast-moving work environment. However, remembering to constantly provide recognition and encouragement is vital and keeps teams motivated to achieve their goals.

When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help or protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. The take-away here is that team members should always stand by each other in difficult times.

Whilst everyone loves to be on a winning team, things may get difficult and the team faces challenges, which will be the time teammates need each other the most. If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Staying committed to core values and purpose is another important lesson we can learn from geese. The geese migration routes never vary. They use the same route year after year. Even when the flock members change, the young learn the route from their parents. In the spring they will go back to the spot where they were born.

Every organisation that is serious about achieving success should stay true to our core values and purpose. Strategies, tactics, and products may change in order for an organisational to remain agile, but great companies always stick to their core purpose and values, and preserve them with vigour.

Sam Hlabati is a senior professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). Email: samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati

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