The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

That’s what a team needs

At least, that’s what a lot of people hope to find when they start reading a message like “Communication tips from the Apollo 13 Mission” or “How to see when your team is engaged”.

It’s a mild form of the man-with-a-hammer syndrome as Charlie Munger called it in his speech “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment”.

Lists of tips and how-to descriptions rarely consider the context. They provide a solution and it’s up to the reader to decide if the suggested solution will also work in his situation.

The three tips I received where “stay calm and don’t panic”, “resolve the situation as a team” and “be direct and clear”. All of them are useful and valid. But they come in as a retrospective, an observation of what “Houston” did to solve the problem. And they don’t talk about the role of leadership in that context, the ability of the leaders to connect the dots fast enough and share their decisions.

The situation the Apollo 13 astronauts were in, describes a typical situation in which a team finds it easy to be engaged. There is something important and highly visible at stake, it’s about people and it’s about reputation. These situations energize any team, there is urgency and there is a lot to win from engagement. It’s a situation that automatically removes a lot of the noise otherwise present in teams, where there is time to be bored. Such events become memories that stay for a long time with the team. They are the times they refer to, to explain when their team worked well. What they don’t see, is how well their team might actually be working in less exciting times.

Knowing the context helps to have a read of the situation.

In turn, this might help to reevaluate expectations as to how things have to be.


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