Lessons from a World Record – Teams and Vision and Leadership
You may think that a world record is a solo thing, it isn’t! It requires a team of 6 to 10 people, some of whom are in the water, some of whom are ensuring people get into the water at the right time and know what they are doing.
On every deep dive there was a list of people and times – those divers had to be in the water at that time to meet me at a specific time. If that did not happen it could have meant the difference between me surviving or not because when things go wrong underwater you often need the assistance of someone else to get you out (a fact that Don Shirley can attest to – his deep water bend would have been fatal if there had not been support divers to get him onto the right gas and moving upward on the line).
Working in corporates and delivering IT systems means I have seen another side of teams, which isn;t always a success story. We all like to talk about creating and being in high performance teams, but are we really ? What do those look like ? What did we do in diving that a corporate team needs to do ?
Here is what I have learnt about teams thanks to diving.
Teams work when you have a common, known vision of what must be created and each person is able to use their skill set to move in that direction.
Teams don’t work when there is no leader steering people and making sure people are not getting side tracked.
Nor do they work when there isn’t a single decision maker who can override conflict and ‘own’ the consequences – because there will be different opinions and there will be challenges and everyone will have a different idea of what is important and how to solve them. When a leader does that, the team can keep moving forward.
Teams also don’t work when people do what tasks that are assigned to other people.
All of this is very clear when you run a world record dive. Each person knows what the goal is. There is one person who makes the critical decisions and no-one goes around or past that one person (the deep diver if you were interested – hey, it is my life, so I get to make the decisions that could kill me.
I am also the one who gets to choose what is important and what isn’t and how to solve the important issues. This has taught me how to identify churn and noise and let it go. For example, on my first 186m dive our Helium didn’t arrive. It meant tasking someone to drive a 300km round trip to Kimberly to get it. The team at the time wanted to quite because we didn’t have the Helium. Another example would be the list of tasks that need to get done. Frequently we would end a day and do our daily review to discover that someone hadn’t done the dive they had been tasked with…somehow they decided something else was more important. Those were the evenings were things were not quiet…because the dives on the list were the dives I needed to get done so that equipment would be in place. If these dives didn’t get done…because people faffed or just didn’t get around to it for whatever reason, the entire trip was jeopardised to the point where we would be out of time and not actually get to do THE dive.
I guess it boils down to each person trusting the other and of course, the leader. If you don’t trust the team you are in you do everyone else’s job, including the leaders. If you don’t have a common vision or a single person to steer you go in the direction of the strongest person.
Not everyone gets to lead. Sometimes it is as important to be a good team member and get your part right.
So, how is your team doing ? What part are you playing in that team ? Dare you lead ?