I love the Snowbirds, no, not the ones that migrate in their RVs every winter to warmer climes, but the The Canadian Forces Snowbirds.
I love them because apart from putting on a pretty spectacular show, they offer a clear demonstration of what can happen when you get collaboration and teamwork right. The truth is, they have to get it right. Lives depend on it.
In most organizations, the necessity for getting it right is less dire. However, the extent to which we work effectively together usually dictates our capacity and potential for success. And so, I think there is something to be learned from precision flying teams like the Snowbirds.
While I have only had the opportunity to observe them in action at an air show, these observations put me in mind of some principles that might very well apply to all highly functioning and effective teams. So here they are:
Principle #1: Choosing team members carefully is vital to team success
In order to achieve optimal team performance, choosing the right participants is critical to getting the team off the ground. To do that, those decisions need to include very precise specifications around skill, experience, values, behaviour and potential. Poor choices can lead to some disappointing results at the very least. Indeed, a poor choice made for the Snowbird Squadron has the capacity for a disastrous result.
Principle #2: Each team member must be clear about the team purpose and his or her purpose within the team.
It is the job of the leader to ensure that each team member knows why the team exists; what the team must achieve; and his or her role within the team. Lack of clarity creates confusion and places team members out of alignment with each other and with their overall purpose.
Principle #3: Those on the ground are as important as those in the air
In most organizations there are those who are more visible than others. These are the stars, the ones who are highly skilled in one particular area of the team’s work. It is easy to assume that these people are the team. However, those in the air can only be there if they have the benefit of the skill and knowledge provided by those on the ground. For instance, there are nine CT-114 Tutor jets in the Snowbird fleet. Each plane has its own dedicated technician who ensures his/her plane will fly safely and optimally for the pilot. In other words, nine pilots in the air cannot do their jobs safely or well without the support of the rest of the team no matter how skilled they may be.
Principle #4: The team is always evolving
In any team, team members come and go. Every time a new member joins the team, its dynamic changes and those who remain are charged with responsibility of supporting, training and integrating those who join.
A Snowbird pilot is assigned to the squadron for three years. After that he is typically reassigned. The turnover is planned in such a way that the more experienced pilots play a role in the indoctrination and training of the new ones. In this way, the team continues to grow in depth and maturity while keeping the experience fresh for everyone.
Principle #5: Trust is the glue that binds highly effective teams together
I would suggest that in a team such as the Snowbirds, the absence of trust would keep them all grounded. This is also true of other teams in other organizations and that makes building trust among team members a very big deal.
After all, no one would be able to fly like this without it:
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?
*Originally published in October, 2011