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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning from Geese

Living in New England you become accustom to seeing the migration of Geese.  As the leaves start turning colors the Geese head south for the winter.  I came across the "Lesson from Geese" from a colleague this week.

The story was written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish, a science teacher from Baltimore, Maryland  for a sermon in his church. Demonstrating the power of a good idea, his essay spread and has become a classic statement of the importance of teamwork.

We all know how important leadership and teamwork are in today’s organizations.  We can use the five principles presented in the “Lessons from Geese” story as inspiration to practice good leadership and teamwork skills as we implement Lean.

Fact 1: The Importance of Achieving Goals

As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: The Importance of Team Work

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.

Fact 3: The Importance of Sharing 

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the 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.

Fact 4: The Importance of Empathy and Understanding

The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement the production is much greater. 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.

Fact 5: The Importance of Encouragement

When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down 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: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

"Lessons from Geese" provides a perfect example of the importance of team work and how it can have a profound and powerful effect on any endeavour. When we use these five principles in our personal and business life it will help us to foster and encourage a level of passion and energy in ourselves, as well as those who are our friends, associates, or team members.

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  1. I've used the geese analogy for a long time to explain the power of working with an effective team. However, I wonder how the 71% is measured. Do you know? I've never seen geese flying long distances solo. And how do we know they weren't just the bad geese that got kicked out of the flock, and that's why they don't fly as far? Anyway, the example still applies, just curious about the data if anyone knows the answer.

  2. Hey Jamie, I belive this estimation comes from study conducted by Lissaman & Schollenberger at 1970. You can see more from this document: http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/reprint/128/1/445.pdf

    Tim, super post! Reminded me similarities from my hobby - road cycling. It's very much easier to cycle in group and group also moves at much faster speed than single person.
    Another good real life example to my lean coaching sessions. Thank you!

  3. Everything I see the geese, I think of the "Flying V". I know it is the Mighty Ducks and not the Mighty Geese but who doesn't love that scene at the end. Still gets to teamwork to get to a common Goooooooooooooooooooal!