20,000 Air Miles, 100+ Team Members, 1 Team

What happens when global teams come together to deepen trust and connections and share a common space for 3 days, when they’re already unified by a shared understanding of vision and excellence? A little bit of magic. But this magic wasn’t an accidental tourist. It was the outcome of 4 key factors:

  • Trust
  • Communication 
  • Building Connections 
  • The Power of Intention 

Not unlike the US Swim Team that won the 4 x 100 m freestyle relay in Rio 2016. After that race, Michael Phelps said his 47.12 split was the fastest relay split he’d ever swum in his career and yet, he had worked to earn a spot in the team. The gold they clinched was the outcome of the combined strength of these 4 factors.

Our numbers were just as jaw-dropping but not in an Olympian way 🙂 Some of us flew 20,000+ miles to get to San Diego for a 3-day meeting. Some spent 36 hours just to get there because of bad weather. And some ended up missing connections on their return, leading to additional days of delay. And yet, it was all worthwhile.

Trust and Communication in a ‘Team of Teams’

Is communication always easier for co-located teams? Is it harder across the miles in remote, or distributed teams? The truth is that even the most incredible collaboration technologies cannot replace real-time, in-person conversations. And even then, trust and communication require real work. In response to my question on this topic, Gen. Stan McChrystal, our keynote speaker and retired US General and author of The New York Times Best Seller, Team of Teamsshared the example of the air crash that changed the way airline crews were trained to communicate.

In Dec 1978, a United DC-8 Flight 173 crashed in Portland, Oregon, killing 2 crew members and 8 passengers. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined in their report that the probable cause of the accident was Capt. Malburn McBroom’s inability to: a) monitor the aircraft’s fuel state and b) properly respond to crew member’s advisories regarding the low fuel state. His inattention to this issue and obsession to solving the possible problem with the plane’s landing gear cost 10 souls on board.

This was not a remote team! This was an airline crew that sat together within handshaking distance! And yet, things had gone horribly wrong.

Notably, this accident later paved the way for NASA to establish Crew or Cockpit Resource Management to focus on communication, leadership, and decision-making among crew members to improve air safety.

For most of us, the work we do, doesn’t always involve life and death scenarios. It does, however, involve momentum, sustenance, growth of businesses, and engagement of teams. And we’re all equally responsible to lead, trust, communicate, and make decisions during flight. We Are the Crew. 

Building Connections

Working in a globally, distributed team creates the opportunity to travel and meet other team members and truly connect. Sometimes with kindred spirits and sometimes with people who are significantly different from me. So everyday, I made it a point to share a meal at a different table.

I also had the privilege of leading a table discussion on the topic of Diverse Teams and how we could identify behaviors that were inclusive.Not just to better integrate these teams but to unleash the power of that diversity! The energy, thought leadership, and the power of perspective in that space alone was enough to fuel my hunger to connect, learn, and give back.

I made 15 new connections in those 3 days. What a gift to have 15, new connections that would add the power of learning to my development! You can’t put a price tag to something like that.

The Power of Intention

It’s a privilege to work with an organization and leadership that views meetings like these as powerful investments of time, money, and effort. It takes an army of teams and disciplined, operational rigor to bring to bear, meetings of this scale and volume. And importantly, it’s a reminder of the neuroscience of intent. Whether it’s the US Swim Team in Rio 2016 celebrating the toil of that intent amidst tears of joy OR our very, own team that just discovered ways of winning together, the power of intent is undeniable.


How do YOU unleash the power of your teams? What has that leadership journey taught you? Post a comment or link and follow me on my journey!

4 thoughts on “20,000 Air Miles, 100+ Team Members, 1 Team”

  1. Hi Anitha,
    Big kudos!
    Superb description about team activity and connection
    What knowledge and what a thought!!! Incredible anitha!!
    Everything is mind blowing…Your vocabulary, thoughts, life in your sentences, all put together is really a team of teams..just fantabulous!!!
    Love u a lot.. Rekzz

  2. Hi Anitha – you and I first connected in person during the Power of Teams off-site on the “Big Bus”…it was just you and me on that bus. Hearing about your lengthy journey to San Diego…it was quite humbling compared to my 4 hour flight! But you also shared your passion for singing – and together we watched one of your favorite singers on my iPhone. Within the 15 minutes we shared, I was impressed with your openness and gentle nature. I feel like I was given a gift on boarding that bus at that particular time. And once again I was reminded of the diverse nature of our team and how much we can learn from each other.

    1. Hi Cathy! Thank you for your generous response. From trans-atlantic flights to snow in Seattle to Yma Sumac, we had a great discussion! And it was just the quiet I needed after all the fun and dancing 🙂 I’m so happy we made a connection and you’re absolutely right – learning moments like these remind me of the power of diverse teams.

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