A Lesson in Team Work from Apollo 13

apollo-13-patchPrologue: A Lesson in Team Work from Apollo 13
[We are in the process of revising a handbook to help people guide new teams through the team development process. What follows is the introduciton.]

This handbook describes the process you can follow to build a performing team. On a performing team, members take more control of their lives, their work, or their careers. Their roles and responsibilities allow them to perform as one unit. To illustrate a performing team in action, we begin with an example from the annals of the United States’ space program.

In April 1970, Apollo 13 with a crew of three was on a mission to the moon. The craft was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but two days later a lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded, crippling the Service Module upon which the Command Module depended.

The explosion had also damaged the filtering system that removed carbon dioxide and the crew faced a life or death situation.

Yet, if it had not been for a high performing team of dedicated individuals a quarter of a million miles away in Texas, the astronauts might never have returned to earth. The team at Mission Control in Houston set themselves a goal — to save the astronauts’ lives.
The team in Houston created a device to remove the carbon dioxide using only materials available to the lunar module crew. It was an ingenious combination of suit hoses, cardboard, plastic stowage bags, and other items, all held together with duct tape.

A day and a half after the explosion, the Houston team had designed and built a working filtering device. They promptly radioed instructions to the Apollo 13 crew who proceeded to build their own device. Eventually Apollo 13 returned safely back to earth, thanks to the efforts of the team at ground control.

High performing teams don’t reach that level by chance. Through a classic and identifiable process, they form, weather challenges, accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses and chart a course for individual and team success.

You may not be asked to rescue astronauts, but you can build a team of contenders.

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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.
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