Whales 9 May 2013

Learning from Whales

Holidays are a good time to ponder on things.

I was at SeaWorld watching the whales go through their highly demanding and synchronised show. You can only sit and admire the show and wonder how the trainers do it. And wonder if there is a lesson to be learned here.

Clearly they get food rewards during the show. And whilst it looks plentiful, compared to their daily ration, it’s trivial. These are intelligent animals, with the ability to communicate with each other and hunt in pods. They have the capability to harm their keepers (an extremely rare and usually explainable event), and free choice to take part in the shows. And I have been often enough to see a refusal.

The whales cannot speak to their keepers, yet respond to them and learn and work together – and appear to enjoy it.

It was whilst watching a show that I drew the link to engagement and motivation – two critical links to effective treamworking that is at the heart of organisational success.

Why do we seem to struggle with getting people to synchronise their actions, to enjoy working together to deliver “the show”?  After all, we have a huge advantage with the ability to communicate with each other.

Speaking to the trainers, you find that they are dedicated and committed to their whales. They spend a lot of time focused on each one, to getting to understand it and learn how it “ticks”. And presumably the whale recognises this, given its responses. Would it work without this commitment? The emphatic answer is “no”.

So, musing over this, I was reminded of the various surveys that show that first line team managers matter. Taking it further, leadership and management are not part time tasks that can be turned on or off. If the whales can work this out, then so can team members.

For true engagement of team members, managers have to be committed, honest and fully dedicated to their roles and their teams. Only then will people trust in and work with their managers and with each other.


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