Canada Geese and the Power of Teamwork

Posted in Leadership

geese-in-vI grew up in the small northern community of Vanderhoof, British Columbia. An awesome place to grow up, where there was room to explore and experience the beauty of “God’s Country”as my grandfather from Missouri used to say. The symbol of our small community was the Canada goose; I guess largely because we seemed to be on it’s migration path. Each September you could hear the constant honking from above as flocks in their “V” formation filled the cooling Fall skies. My other grandfather had wheat fields and when we would visit we would often see the fields full of thousands of geese foraging for the last bits of grain left left behind by the thrashing machine. I never really thought much about why we had a goose for a symbol instead of the moose, bear or other abundant wildlife that the North was blessed with, but it as a symbol for some reason always seemed a little less significant in my mind.

A few years ago I was having a particularly challenging time in a company I had the privilege of leading. It was going through what was termed back then as a “turnaround” situation which is short for “going broke fast and needs to have an overhaul”….too bad I didn’t know that when I signed on! However, these in hindsight are the opportunities that challenge our leadership capability and make us grow exponentially, should we choose to embrace the challenge.

Back to the lowly Canada goose…. As I was struggling with how to get my teams in two different operations, in two different cities, working better together for the sake of the company’s success, a friend sent me an article, written by Angeles Arrien and the story he sent me goes like this…..

Next fall, when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in ā€Vā€ formation, think about what science has learned about why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following it. By flying in a ā€œVā€ formation, the whole flock can fly at least 71% farther than if each bird flew on its own. Perhaps people who share a common direction can get where they are going more quickly and easily if they co-operate.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it feels the resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of flying with the flock. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will work with others who are going the same way as we are. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing, and another goose flies on the point. It pays to take turns doing hard jobs for our group. The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Finally, when a goose weakens or is wounded and falls out of formation, two geese fall out and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead and then they set out on their own or with another formation until they catch up with their group. If we had the sense of a goose, we would stand by each other like that.

This simple but poignant message was the catalyst for me to set in motion a series of cross functional and cross divisional teams that changed the direction of this small organization and turned it into a much healthier organization, both financially and culturally. The company continues to flourish today and although I have long since left the organization I receive the odd email from some of my senior management team, some whom have also moved on, reminiscing about that period in their careers as having been one of their most memorable and inspiring. I have to agree, the personal growth and learning….not to mention the hours, were extraordinary.

So in closing I will leave you with this…next time you see a flock of Canada Geese overhead, think about how their incredible teamwork allows them to navigate as a team over thousands of miles to their wintering destinations. Listen to their honking, while to some may just be a familiar Fall sound on the horizon, you will know it is their rally cry to the team that keeps them moving forward even when they feel like they cant, and finally marvel as they share the lead role to better accomplish their objective of survival.

I hope this story has left you with a little more than when you arrived and I hope it serves to inspire you when looking at your teams and how you can make them better…Honk,Honk!

I would love to hear your feedback on this or any other post…please leave a comment or share your story. Thank you.

Canada Goose proudly displayed on the Welcome sign.

Canada Goose proudly displayed on the Welcome sign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Cindy
    September 30, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this! What a great story.

    Reply
  2. Tanya
    October 1, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this with me Jim. As a young leader, this has been very inspiring and motivating, i will definitely be sharing this lesson/insight with my team.

    Reply
  3. peter
    October 1, 2013

    Hello Jim

    another great story….i wonder at times if you should turn your career in the direction of motivational speaker and tour this great nation…..you inspire people to do their best….

    Reply
    • October 1, 2013

      Thank you for your kind words Peter…great to know they are hitting the mark! Like your suggestion as well…down the road perhaps.

      Reply
  4. Sandra Boyd
    October 2, 2013

    Thank you Jim, inspiring as always.
    Sandra

    Reply
  5. Eva Buren
    October 3, 2013

    Jim,

    This hits right home with me, a very inspirational story about teamwork and respect for the individual: We all bring different skills, backgrounds and strengths when working together. Although it would be nice to be perfect, we’re not always “on our game”. Other days, we shine. And some days are just middle of the road. Pick a flavor, and we can still make greater things happen together than alone, and support each other along the way.

    Thank you for making us step back, reflect and get inspired.
    Eva

    Reply
    • October 3, 2013

      Thank you Eva. So glad it hit home for you. Your efforts to promote “team” are always valued and appreciated. Thank you!

      Reply

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