Throughout the history of man, teams have been out there getting the job done. In conducting research for this article, I noted a similarity between group hunting methods used by man and the animal kingdom. One of the best examples of animal pack hunting is the gray wolf. Within the pack, there is the alpha wolf or team lead. This wolf guides the pack and makes sure the other wolves in the pack work as one to track and kill their prey. All the wolves in the pack know that unless they work together and succeed, no one will eat and ultimately not survive. Now we look at this example and relate it to early man. Since group hunting is common to many cultures all over the planet and there were no “hunting consultants” traveling to far off lands to instruct early hunters on the newest methods, then we must assume that early man may have learned from observing other species as they hunted. Aided by their growing intelligence, our hunting party quickly learned the advantages of working as a team so all could survive. Each hunter understood the rules and their individual roles and responsibilities.
Now flash forward 10,000 years and see how our maintenance “wolf pack” meetings discuss strategy. The prey is now known as uptime. The job at hand is ensuring that the company or “village” survives, with this task in the hands of the maintenance team.
Anyone who has ever been a member of any kind of team knows that the personal dynamics of a team play a huge part in their success. I believe this aspect of team dynamics is the Achilles’ heel of the maintenance team. The formulation of the team can be comprised three different ways: individuals who are unknown to each other; individuals who are familiar with each other; or a combination of the first two scenarios. Examining the team dynamics of the first group, we have a team leader who is assembling the group and needs to be cognitive of the fact that he or she is acting as the alpha figure and may actually have one or more alpha type individuals being added to the newly formed team. In nature, the alpha pack lead leader would be physically challenged by the other alpha member for leadership rights to the pack. Obviously, we cannot have our first team meeting ending in a fight, so this is where the intelligence factor comes into play. The team lead should take the time to make sure all the members of the team know the team rules and their individual responsibilities. An effort must be made to ensure that everyone understands that individual viewpoints and ideas are welcomed and encouraged, but the team lead has the final authority.
In examining our second team dynamic scenario, we find that since team members know each other, they may bring preconceived opinions about their fellow team members. It is important not to dismiss these opinions entirely because some may very well be true. We carry many variables that make up who we are as people (traits, habits, enthusiasm, drive, etc.). How this life experience is managed is a crucial component that can either build value into a team or ruin it. The range may go from the young person just out of school who believes he or she “knows it all” to the experienced worker who has “seen it all” to everyone in between. In this scenario, it is important for the team lead to accentuate these differences and turn them into a strong and positive aspect of the team. The younger worker needs to know that he or she can learn a lot from the older worker by the way of tribal knowledge and the older worker needs to understand that there may be new methods and ways of doing things that he or she should be open to trying. Both types of team members need to realize that their very survival depends upon their mutual understanding. Even more importantly, each should understand that their individual contribution or role is vital to team survival and success.
Now that a maintenance team has been assembled, the team lead needs to ensure that the aspect of personal responsibility is at the forefront of the team’s success. Each team member must remember that just as the members of a tribe or wolves in a pack may starve to death without the ability to act as one cohesive unit to procure food to ensure their survival, team members must also accept their individual responsibilities and work as one with the team to make sure they will continue their employment through the success of their company.
We’ve gone through the years and witnessed that nothing really ever changes with regards to our survival. The settings and circumstances of our human existence may have changed, but the core tenant of survival is still the driving factor that gets us all out of bed in the morning. We have gone from carrying a spear to hunt for food or a gun to hunt for dinner to carrying a toolbox and a cell phone on our hip to allow us to complete a maintenance action that provides the money needed to buy our groceries. Let us always look back to the past to help us guide ourselves to the future. The lessons of the past, whether good or bad, must always be remembered for us to learn and not be doomed by allowing history to repeat itself and, in turn, endangering our very survival.
Michael Rezendes is currently employed at Raytheon Technical Services Company. During his 37-year career at RTSC, he has gained experience in everything from production and test; to field service work with Navy equipment installations and maintenance development.