Some of the characters from the movie Inside Out were going through my brain as laughter rolled across the field when the plane took a second nosedive into the ground. My boys had spent the last week building a model RC plane - their first with electronics - and they were so excited to go out and test it. It was at this moment that personified Anger was channeling his blasting fiery head through me, but perhaps I should bring you along on the journey before starting with the red guy. For those who don’t know, Inside Out is a Pixar movie where five emotions - Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – are personified.
Many of us can relate to being given a new project in an area we’ve been assigned, one where we’ve got exposure, but maybe no direct experience. I’ve been a passenger on lots of planes, and as a kid I’ve built plastic models, but any experience with flight simulators has been short-lived, as I tend to crash quickly! With this in mind, coming up to speed building a plane that you then expect to fly has been quite a challenge – and I’m still nowhere close to ‘there.’ My kids have been absorbing every episode of Flite Test – and I must admit – I think this show is great from an educational and entertainment perspective. Who thinks of brewing coffee on a plane while flying?! I’ve been peripherally involved as the kids built their first planes from dollar store foam board; they were on a limited budget for proof of concept. It was truly an amazing experience to see their excitement, and mine, when the plane actually flew!They have learned how to create a plan, identify and acquire sufficient materials, watch the instructional videos to assemble the plane as a team, seek guidance and/or supervision as needed, and then fly! When something didn’t work, they would troubleshoot and problem solve until it did.
Have you had to manage a project to time, cost and budget? I will give a bit of flexibility on managing to time in this example as their drive was excitement to complete the project, rather than a deadline. Also, having to work with a team of diverse individuals, in this case age and temperament…okay, that’s identical to the corporate world.
Over the course of the plane-building process, the team was empowered to identify, select and purchase a plane kit. The thought is that with a kit, while a bit more expensive, it will eliminate errors of workmanship or compatibility because the pieces are laid out and precut and all the resources are provided, thereby maximizing success. After the kit arrives and building has begun, the sponsor does a ‘walk through’ to see how things are progressing. It’s observed that the team chose a kit that was slightly too advanced for their experience level, and that learning to fly would be more of a challenge. Yes, I hear many of you out there saying there was no control to validate the team’s selection in advance of purchasing the kit - lesson learned, and from now on controls are placed where the sponsor reviews and assesses each purchase in advance!
Now, to the personified emotions. The plane is built, testing is done, and we walk to the park for its maiden flight. Excitement is in the air; the team has a bounce in our step as we prepare to launch. A soccer practice had just wrapped up and there were still some people to the side, but we had a safe environment to use for our straight flight and landing attempts.The engine is brought up to speed, the plane is pushing to go, and it’s released! Three feet forward then hard nosedive, hard landing! (Sadness) A few chuckles are heard from those on the side. We think, okay, maybe the controls for the elevator weren’t fully engaged, let’s try again. Engine is revved up and the same result. The chuckles become laughter. (Anger) My son, always thinking, has the idea that the elevator may be programmed backwards. He easily switches it on the transmitter.One minute later, all switched around and ready to go again. (Fear) The plane launches and flies through the air! It gets a good 40 feet before he brings it down with a little help from a soccer goalpost. (Joy) The enthusiasm of the team is something to see. High fives, excited voices, and even some jumping for joy! And, those observing on the field were excited, arms in the air and cheering – saying “Good job.”
The emotions above are all mine – not shown to the team, but internalized and real. As I reflect on the situation, I think on how the team handled the setbacks - with poise and always focused on the goal to be achieved. We’ve done an informal after-action review of the maiden flight experience. One team member didn’t hear the laughter after the crash. The other was disappointed that the plane wasn’t working and said he was just focused on determining why it wasn’t flying.
My takeaway message is that those projects and teams you work on may have setbacks. There will be emotions of all kinds running through every individual member, and it is incumbent upon the leader to help the team express things in a healthy way and ensure communication is effective throughout – both within and without the team, and keep the objective in mind. To understand the role you play on the team and your responsibility in achieving the objective is key. In addition, effective teams don’t point fingers at setbacks. They keep their eyes focused on the goal and the means to achieve it. Another characteristic of high performing teams is to celebrate successes and provide encouragement along the way.