What Can Your Team Learn From the Chilean Mining Disaster?

by | Sep 13, 2010 | Blog, Human Resources

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or info@integrityhr.com

I have been fascinated by the story of the 33 Chilean miners trapped in an underground cavern for the past month with a possible four months ahead of them until rescue. Their resilience, endurance, and attitudes are a commendable accolade to the human spirit. However I can’t help but think – how would my team of colleagues react if faced with a similar crisis?  Or better yet, how would the majority of corporate America react?

We usually don’t use this blog as an opportunity to rant or get on a soapbox, but the contrast of these miners in this terrible crisis compared to the behavior of most employees and managers during petty conflicts has got me thinking.

An Organization Arises Out of Necessity

One of the things that is so impressive to me is that the miners have created their own hierarchy and organization within the cavern.  Leaders have come into play by necessity, and these leaders weren’t necessarily managers prior to this tragedy.  In a time of crisis these people have called on hidden talents that they might have never had a chance to develop, and they have put them to use to survive.

Luis Urzua was a shift leader prior to the accident, and he is leading the group of men in tactical and logistical requirements – helping to map the path to the rescue hole and organizing shifts to get the debris moved in order to assist the rescue.  His men are continuing to look to him, and he is stepping up to the responsibility.

Mario Gomez, the oldest of the miners at 62, has become the spiritual and moral leader of the group, acting as liaison to psychologists on the surface and preparing a subterranean chapel for the miners who are calling on their faith during this period.  His qualifications?  A lifetime of survival in the mining industry through perilous circumstances that have taught him what is – and is not – important in a crisis.

Yonny Barrios has become the groups medical advisor, working closely with doctors on the surface to track blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, as well as dispersing the medication sent down by physicians.  His qualifications?  A six month nursing course he took fifteen years ago.

What Can Your Team Learn From This?

While a few of the men are suffering from severe anxiety (who can blame them?) the rest are rallying around them and are expressing full faith that they will survive this. Wouldn’t it be nice if your team showed that kind of support for a struggling co-worker?

Doesn’t this make you more than a little ashamed when you realize how your employees (managers included) react when they are faced with minor setbacks in the workplace?  Sure, survival is not an issue when disagreements happen at work, but if anyone had cause to whine and gripe and complain, it’s these miners.

It’s too soon to know for certain how this will play out and what will prevail, but my bets are on this team of men who are banding together and putting aside personal differences and workplace problems in order to ensure one another’s survival.

Maybe it’s time to ask of your team – what would we do?  Would we have too many leaders?  Would we have stubborn managers who would not submit to the more relative experience or better judgement of one of their staff?  Would we expect someone else to take full responsibility for our rescue and complain that we were unable to go on working ten hour shifts to move thousands of pounds of rocks to ensure our own survival?

Too many employees now won’t even get up out of their chair to discuss an issue with a colleague personally, relying instead on emails or texts that can easily be misinterpreted and lead to bigger problems.

I don’t know.  I truly believe in the American spirit and believe as well that if faced with a crisis of this proportion, most of us would rise to the occasion.

But why should it only be in a life or death situation? Shouldn’t we also be willing to work together to solve petty conflicts and crises in the workplace?  Couldn’t we save a whole lot of time and money if we eliminated all of the petty office games? Too many employees and managers can’t even spend two hours in a boardroom together without leaving feeling as if they’ve been in a heated debate.

The Main Takeaway

Perhaps it’s time to remind your company to count their blessings, to work together to be a true team, and to look out for one another for a change.

So the next time your team starts arguing about whose job it is to make more coffee, just remember, as we have seen in recent weeks with these Chilean miners… things could be a lot worse.

Work with each other, not against each other.

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