Three weeks ago today I got to witness my first eclipse. I did not make it to the path of totality but the 92% I experienced here in Seattle changed the way I see and think about the sun. My newfound awareness also serves as an incredible metaphor for how I think about the work I do with teams going forward. Having the sun shine differently here all of last week due to the smoke from the wild fires nearby also helped keep this thinking fresh in my mind. I thought today I would finally share my thoughts.
Lesson 1: 8% power still packs a punch and highlights the challenge of identifying lost productivity when the light is still so bright.
I was surprised by how much light there still was with only 8% of the sun shining. Yes, the shadows were strange, the light was flat, the air was noticeably cooler and the solar panels on my roof produced a lot less energy but it was nowhere close to being dark.
When I work with teams we are always focused on collectively changing outcomes by how efficiently and effectively the team gets to them. Teams are incredibly powerful collections of people, knowledge, skills, norms, roles and so much more. To me they have a heat and glow to them that is much like the sun. What they can generate is immense and powerful, both good and bad. The reality is that they are more often than not at full potential for a variety of reasons.
Much like the sun during the eclipse, teams can still produce a lot even though they might be only operating at a fraction of their capacity. The challenge is that most of the time teams don’t realize it and even if they do, they don’t know what to do about it to make it different or they are just too busy making light to stop and try to get collectively brighter. They fall victim to belief that it is bright enough just as the casual and unaware observer might have thought during the eclipse because the sun was still shinning bright despite 92% of it being momentarily offline.
Lesson 2: There is always much more than meets the eye even with the right lenses on.
I watched an incredible program on Nova called Eclipse Over America that brought to light for me a huge part of the eclipse that we missed by not being in the zone of totality. I highly recommend it if you want to learn more fun facts about the eclipse.
There is this thing called the Corona, which is the upper atmosphere of the sun. It appears as a halo around the sun during a total eclipse and it is immensely powerful. It is actually hotter than the sun and extends well beyond the sun but we never see it unless the sun is blocked. The show highlights how different scientists were using the eclipse as an opportunity to capture the Corona so that they could further study and understand it.
I was struck again by how much this concept fits for teams because of how challenging it is to know what is really going on within teams. Groups of people that become a team under intense pressure to produce results together generate a lot heat that is often hard to see. Most of what is observed is just what is happening within the team and what they are producing. Yet there is so much more going on in teams that the naked eye can never catch it all. Peoples’ perceptions, judgments, thoughts, feelings and general sense of the team creates a bright atmosphere that extends beyond the team. It is often felt by others but is rarely explored or even understood.
Lesson 3: Solar eclipses happen more often than I thought and are readily available for teams with a lot less fanfare.
The Nova show also introduced me to whole science of predicting when and where eclipses will occur and how many different types of eclipses there are. I can see now why millions of people spend their lives chasing these events around the globe. I suspect the next time there is one as close as this one was to me I will probably make the extra effort to get to the zone of totality. There certainly was enough publicity about it that it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the event.
I find teams often make working on themselves into as big of an event as the eclipse was and do it about as often as eclipses occur. They schedule elaborate off-sites and spend lots of time and resource to try and understand themselves better. The problem is the time spent and the results achieved are often just as short lived as the eclipse was and the benefits ultimately fade away as they return to the work at hand. All of this probably contributes to why these team events don’t occur frequently enough.
I am excited to try and help teams work through these three new learnings the eclipse brought to light for me in a new and exciting way. I’ve partnered with Team Elements to help teams enhance their effectiveness so they can shine more brightly by understanding the atmosphere in and around them. My hope is this pragmatic approach that combines data and dialogue to unlock the power of teams will take hold so more teams and the individuals within them can thrive by seeing themselves more clearly.
I’m curious to hear what you think and if you are ready to learn more about a new set of team glasses available to help you see your team more clearly.