Follow that goose!

From the autumn and throughout the winter in the Netherlands, and especially in the provinces of Friesland, Flevoland and Noord-Holland, we are able to observe and admire lots of migrating geese. Despite the fact that these birds are often associated with less positive characteristics (‘what a silly/ stupid goose’), we can actually learn a lot from these birds; they work together well. Have you for example ever asked yourself why geese fly in V formation? A goose flapping its wings creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a ‘V’ formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. Doesn’t sound that stupid to me. A lesson we can learn from this is that people who share a common direction and sense of community can help each other towards their goals.

And there’s more we can learn from geese. This newsletter contains a number of ‘lessons’. I have to be honest here and say that I’m not the person to have first discovered these lessons. Milton Olsen is often acknowledged as being the author, but diligent research reveals that the real author is Dr. Robert McNeish and that he wrote them in 1972. Have I aroused your curiosity? Then read on.

  1. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it. Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
  2. When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies to the point position. Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.
  3. The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. They have 10 different types of noise they use to communicate with, depending on the situation they are confronted with. Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging rather than judgemental. In groups where there is encouragement, productivity is much higher. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.
  4. When a goose gets sick, two geese drop out of formation and follow it to help and 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. Lesson: It is important to stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
  5. As soon as the geese have landed, each goes its own way to find enough food to eat and to produce the next generation. Lesson: Competition amongst each other may raise productivity, but as soon as the common goal is clear to all, the collective is more important.

I am convinced that if we were to behave more like geese, we would not only be more effective but we would also enjoy our work more. And that can lead to unexpected results. You can see this illustrated here in this one-minute film entitled ‘teamwork: birds or people’.

Finally, the challenge for this time. Place the subject of ‘teamwork’ on the agenda of your next team meeting and discuss the above lessons together. To what degree are you working in this way within your team? What would you gain if you all started displaying more (or even more) geese-like behaviour? Are you personally prepared to show totally different behaviour? If you feel you might benefit from assistance during the discussion, you can always contact me.

Goose luck!

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