How many of you have done, or participated in, one of the following: read a book or an article on “how to build a successful team”, attended a corporate retreat or took part in a “team building exercise”? If you’re honest, every one of you reading this would answer yes to at least one of these activities and most of us would have to admit that any positive impact they might have had on organizational behavior was purely coincidental. Let’s face it; the folks that would catch you in the “Trust Fall” are usually the same ones who will reflexively tell you all the reasons why something can’t be done when everyone returns to their cubicles. So here is my advice, if you really want to understand the underlying requirements of a high performing organization visit an aircraft carrier.

I recently had the pleasure of spending 24 hours on the USS Reagan, CVN 76. The Reagan is one of the ten (10) aircraft carriers currently in this country’s navy. 1,092 feet long, weighing in at over 101,000 tons and manned by a crew of 5.000 men and women, the Reagan is a floating city. As I toured the ship and viewed the broad spectrum of activities required for its operation, I couldn’t help but be struck by the two things: the age of the majority of its crew and their clear understanding of the importance of their role in its ability to fulfill its mission.

As part of our volunteer military, the young men and women entrusted with the Reagan’s operation represented a cross section of our nation’s citizenry melded together under the umbrella of a common objective. Every sailor that I spoke with were obviously proud of their given responsibility and genuinely expressed their belief that theirs was the most important job on the ship. Each clearly understood how the role they performed contributed to the Reagan’s overall mission and purpose. This was as true of the former cook at a burger joint as it was to the newly commissioned lieutenant. The fact that the majority of these individuals seemed to be a few years shy of even reaching their 25th birthdays only reinforced that it is the ability to clearly articulate the central mission of the organization that is the key to the development of a high functioning team.

For many of you, the concept of clearly articulating, and regularly reinforcing, the purpose of your data center operations may be greeted with a response akin to “duh”. But if that is the case then why is the main contributor to downtime still human error? If you can’t clearly identify your data centers’ reason for being then how can you expect your employees to appreciate the importance of their individual roles, and more importantly, how each of them contribute to the achievement of your goals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Unlike many companies who believe their “mission” is the convoluted and verbose scribble on the plaque in the lobby that represented the consensus of opinion that time half the senior management of the company was trapped in a conference room festooned with industrial sized post-it notes, the crew of the Reagan’s mission is clear and undisputed, “Engage and defeat the enemy whenever and wherever necessary”. This simplicity enables even the 18 year-old sailor to understand how what he or she does is essential to the Reagan’s success in meeting this objective.

My visit to the Reagan only increased my admiration and respect for the young men and woman who have chosen to serve and protect our country. Their enthusiasm and level of professionalism were a welcome reminder of the strength and dedication of our military during these most uncertain times. They also provided a valuable lesson for those of us involved in providing mission critical solutions and environments: It the mission first, last and always that defines every other activity. In other words, you can read hundreds of books, attend retreats in the most exotic locations and complete the most intricate rope course to maybe improve how your organization functions or, you can just talk to any man or woman in uniform.

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