Emperor Penguins and Team Development

emperor penguinsThere is a popular book entitled Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. From the Iceberg website, here is their verbatim summary of the book.
“Our Iceberg Is Melting is a simple fable about successfully responding to change in an ever-changing world. . . .
The fable is about a penguin colony in Antarctica. A group of beautiful emperor penguins live as they have for many years. Then, one curious bird discovers a potentially devastating problem threatening their home, and when he raises the issue, no one listens to him.
The characters in the story, Fred, Alice, Louis, Buddy, the Professor, and NoNo, are like people we recognize — even ourselves. Their tale is one of resistance to change and heroic action, seemingly intractable obstacles, and the most clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles. . . .
Our Iceberg Is Melting is based on pioneering work that shows how the 8-Step Process for Leading Change can succeed in creating needed change in any sort of group.
It’s a story that can be enjoyed by anyone while at the same time providing invaluable guidance for a world that keeps moving faster and faster.”

The Stages of Team Development
Tools for controlling change are necessary. But from our more than ten years experience in team development, we see a subtext, intended or not, about how this group of penguins gets to the point where they can perform as a team and only then implement the needed change. What they do is navigate the classic stages of team development.

After the initial discovery of the problem with the iceberg that has been their home for ages, it takes a while for the entire penguin population to be convinced that they are in danger and must take action; they will have to change. However, not everyone sees a need for immediacy. So steps must be taken.

Those who want action form a team. Forming is the first stage of team development. By the way, it’s approximately one third of the way through my hard cover copy before the forming occurs.

The penguins’ stay in the next stage, the Storming stage, is brief, but it’s there on page 55 when Louis, the head penguin, succeeds in “taking the difficult but essential step of pulling together a team to guide the needed change.”

Twenty pages later, give or take, many of the penguin community are involved. They are in the third, or Norming stage. But they need everyone and it is only on page 97 when they have taken the unprecedented step of “Making everyone … feel empowered.” They are fully in the fourth stage, the Performing stage of team development. Now they can and do take specific steps to reach their goal of changing their home. Which they do.

Once they have settled in, Louis reflects on what he saw as “the most remarkable change of all was in how so many members of the colony had grown less afraid of change, were learning the specific steps needed to make any large adjustment to new circumstances, and worked well together to keep leaping into a better and better future.” (Italics added) Three cheers for teamwork!

A good read that can have applications for team building.
Comments welcomed

(All references are to  the hardcover edition printed by St. Martin’s Press.)


About Bob McCarthy

Originally from the Northeast, I now call Southwest Florida home. I have been a professional copywriter and editor since 1979, both freelance and in house. I have had article published in regional, national and international magazines. Plus, a video for which I wrote the script won an industry award as Best Training Video.
This entry was posted in Advantages of Teams, Challenged Teams, Team Development Strategies, The Lighter Side of Teams and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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