WHAT THE THAI CAVE RESCUE TEACHES US ABOUT TEAMWORK

This summer’s dramatic rescue of 12 young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave more than a mile deep into the earth is a lesson not only in the power of the human spirit but one that also can be applied to everyday business.

On a personal level, as the mother of a healthy 12-year old boy who plays sports and idolizes his coaches, I was transfixed with both the magnitude of the potential tragedy and the miraculous rescue.  It was truly gut-wrenching to wait and watch those mothers suffer, knowing that their boys were physically in a place so close to them, but impossible for them to reach.

But then I began to think of how this related to what I do on a professional level, as a member of a fast-moving team that helps healthcare clients succeed in stressful and high-stakes meetings. I was fascinated by the cool-headed teamwork displayed by people from so many nations who had never worked together before. How did they manage to pull off such an improbable rescue given their societal and governmental differences? How did they set aside these huge differences and their egos, knowing the eyes of the world were upon them? I visualized many chiefs out in that muddy jungle trying to call the shots and be the heroes. But what I learned was very different from what I visualized.

I came upon a very impressive wrap-up of the entire event that was produced by Australia’s Four Corners news program. Three Americans from the rescue team were interviewed, and I was struck by what one of them shared about the experience. It came from Master Sergeant Derek Anderson, who was the U.S. Dive Team Operations Commander for this mission. He described in detail the collaboration from the many stakeholders involved in the rescue, each of whom was completely focused on a single, high-stakes outcome. He said that once all the boys, their coach, and the dive crews were out of the cave, the entire international rescue team took a moment to collectively allow their emotions to “come back in”. And then it hit them. They had just accomplished something as a huge team – many different people from diverse backgrounds who came together as one team in order to succeed – while the world was watching.

As Master Sergeant Anderson said these words, it occurred to me that this also applies to what so many of us do every day. While the entire world may not be watching, the impact of what we do collectively when we work as a team has the potential to have a global impact and touch many lives.

What does the Thai rescue teach us in our daily business?

  1. Be laser-focused on a clear, actionable goal. Get buy-in for that goal up front and ARTICULATE it so that all team members are clear on what that goal is. It’s amazing how many times people “assume” they are all trying to hit the same target.
  2. Acknowledge the difficulty of the task you’re about to embark upon and make sure everyone understands the importance of success.
  3. Check your ego at the door. Be respectful and acknowledge the contribution of each team member.  It’s great to take personal pride in an outcome, but most success requires collaboration.
  4. Be disciplined. Determine specific roles and make sure people understand not only what their individual “job” is – but how it affects the entire team and the team’s outcome.
  5. If something isn’t working – deal with it early. As the saying goes, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

While most of us thankfully won’t have to operate under the enormous, life and death pressure that the Thai cave rescuers had to work with, we can surely take a page from their book.  For those of us who work in healthcare – whether in industry or in support of it – lives DO depend on the efficiency and effectiveness of our work.  And maximizing teamwork can help us achieve success better and faster.