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The value of team work


The story of the rescue of the Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days was an emotional and heart warming story of man’s ability to overcome adversity. The whole world was glued to the TV to watch as each of the miners was bought to the surface to be greeted by friends and family.

For example people working in Curry’s were reporting large numbers of customers walking into the showroom to watch the rescue on the TV’s on display in the store, such was the interest in what happened in Chile.

Other than admiring the ability to get the 33 men out of the San Jose mine, is there anything we can learn from the rescue?

During more than two months underground, the miners’ rescue and support team grew to more than three hundred people, including communications experts, doctors, psychologists, launderers and cooks. The level of teamwork above ground was tremendous with everyone sharing the one common goal. There is certainly something we can learn from this when the full story comes out about how the rescue was planned and how they managed to rescue the miners ahead of schedule.

What has really been interesting is what happened with the group of men trapped underground with nothing to do but wait for a rescue which was forecast to take at least 3 months. The Navy psychologists working above ground advised that the following should be implemented:

1) The 33 men be split into 3 groups – smaller groups would encourage each individual to become more attached to the team they were in, greater interaction amongst a smaller group would lead to more ownership and responsibility being taken by individuals and it would be easier to provide support to each other as it would be harder for individuals to “hide” amongst the bigger group.

2) Each individual was given a specific task to focus on, eg a camera was sent down for one of the group to create a film record of life underground, someone was given responsibility for communication with the outside world, another looked after food, another exercises and so on. Having a sense of purpose helped build and maintain a sense of community and created goals for the whole group to achieve. Uncertainty was reduced as each person knew what was expected of them.

3) Outside stimulus was used to maintain spirits – e.g. videos of football matches were sent down, games were supplied and so on, all with the aim of keeping minds active.

4) Communication on progress made on the rescue plans was constant with the groups given tasks to help prepare for the rescue attempt. As well as maintaining spirits this also helped the group keep their connection with the outside world and gave them a sense that they had a role to play in getting them out.

5) Coaching and counselling was offered and provided to various people in the group to help them manage their emotions and to deal with the ordeal they were enduring.

Whilst the specifics are unique to the situation the miners found themselves in, the general principles laid down by the psychologists can be applied to any team of people:

1) Communicate the vision and the goals to the whole team.

2) Explain how each individual has a part to play in the successful outcome and give constant feedback on progress being made.

3) Allocate specific roles to each individual and make sure they understand how this fits in with the overall goal.

4) Create sub groups of people to help and support each other to achieve specific objectives.

5) Offer coaching, training and support where necessary.

It was brilliant to see each miner being bought safely to the surface and the people of Chile should rightly be very proud of their achievement in bringing the miners to safety. Whilst each miner will be extremely relieved to have escaped the mine, each one looked confident and relatively relaxed as though the outcome was only what they expected. After all they knew the plan, they knew what they had to do and they knew what to expect. 

This rescue operation can teach those of us who manage teams of people what steps we need to take to give our people the tools to fulfill their role to the best of their ability and to ensure peak performance from our team.

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