Pressure, Das Boot and your crew

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  – African proverb

Teamwork. Most of us recognize (intuitively, logically or empirically) the importance and difficulties of building and nurturing good teams. I don’t want to add my personal philosophy to the vast tome of information (example) already available on the topic. Instead, I offer an observation on the intricacy of its benefits and the importance of recognizing them using a slightly unorthodox metaphor: the submarine movie.

The context for my observation is rapid growth. Business is booming at North Star, which is a good thing. We’re on course to double the number of Wellness Centres for the fourth year in a row. Now that’s not too difficult when you’ve got one centre. But going from 12 to 25 is another matter. Maintaining quality, meeting new client expectations while nurturing exiting relationships is a tight rope that many an organization has had to walk.

“So where do the submarines come into it?” you ask. Ok, now if you can ignore the potential sinking=failing connotation, in my opinion being in a rapidly growing organization feels a lot like being in a submarine during a crash dive. As you continue to sink (grow) the pressure on the sub (organization) builds. A gasket blows here, a leak springs there. Around you you can hear the hull creaking and groaning. You know you’re heading in the right direction, but you start to wonder: “can we get there without breaking up?”

Naturally your thoughts turn to the super-structure: how strong is the hull? How accurate are those don’t-dive-deeper-than-this warnings? But what about the crew? How are they dealing with the pressure? Can they hold it together?

One of my favourite movies is Wolfgang Petersen’s classic Das Boot. So how does Der Alte stay so composed during those nail-biting crash dives? My theory is that he knows he’s got the best crew that ever sailed onboard. He can’t do anything about the sub: he can trust that they’ve built it to the best of their ability, but it is what it is: it’s out of his hands.

But the one thing he can influence is his crew. Der Alte knows that he can rely on his crew. He’s got the right people on board. He has invested in them both individually and as a team. So even when one or two of them lose their composure, he knows that they’ll pull through as a team.

Der Alte knows the sub will survive, because he’s got the right crew onboard. So when you growth takes off and your organization starts to feel the pressure. Ask yourself this: are you in the same position as Der Alte? If not, then…

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to grow fast, get a good crew.

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