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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the July
4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Teamwork Models: Geese
Turns out that geese — those scourges of the
lawn — have a great deal to teach business about team building.
Primrose Reeves gives this example: "When geese fly in a V,"
she says, "the upward lift they give each other increases their
efficiency by 71 percent." Impressive. "I was teaching at
a manufacturing facility just yesterday," the MCCC instructor
and corporate trainer says, "and I spoke about the geese."
Whether manufacturing or service, every business needs to develop
teamwork strategies. "I see it in every sector," says Reeves.
Reeves teaches a five-session class on "How to Build
Teams" beginning on Monday, July 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Mercer County
Community College. Cost: $225. Call 609-586-9446.
Now teaching three to four days a week, Reeves draws on a rich
of work experience in her classes. A 1961 graduate of Lock Haven
who holds a master’s degree in educational media, Reeves has been
a Peace Corps volunteer — three times — and spent 20 years
working for the TKR cable company as, among other things, general
manager, national director of training, and senior director of
service. She accepted a buy-out when company was broken up, and
to teaching, where she began her career Odyssey.
"I the early-’60s I went to the Philippines with the Peace Corps
as a teacher," Reeves says. After that initial tour, she returned
to the United States, met and married a man ("no longer in the
picture"), who harbored an interest in serving with the Peace
Corps, but did not want to go alone. The couple joined up together,
and were sent to Kenya, where their daughter was born. Upon returning
home, they had another child, a boy, and when the children were three
and five, the whole family went on a Peace Corps assignment to the
After serving in the Peace Corps, Reeves, who had majored in biology
and education in college, decided she did not want to teach. She
for the Girls Scouts of America for a time, and then went into the
corporate world. Doing so was not the norm for women of her
"As a female in the ’50s, competition was not encouraged,"
she says. Sizing up the scene in the for-profit world, Reeves
however, that she could compete — and she liked the feeling.
of a sudden I found an outlet for my competitive drive."
But while engaging in competition is important for success in
learning to be a good team mate on the job is even more important.
Reeves offers this advice, some of borrowed from the geese, to
that want to harness the power of a team.
"Geese share leadership," she says. "When the lead gets
tired, someone else gets into his place."
- Jockeying for position is a waste of energy. "If we’re
so concerned about who’s in charge, we’re using our energy the wrong
way," she says. Better that each person knows, understands, and
appreciates the roles and responsibilities of his co-workers.
- Take the time to teach fledglings the mores of the flock.
Geese watch their young carefully, standing by patiently as they first
work at swimming upstream or cutting a path through tall grass. In
the business world, this is called "mentoring," and Reeves
says it is an important part of building cohesion.
- Stand by one another. Loyalty is back in fashion among
employers who found hiring and retention to be the biggest headache
of the past six or seven years. One way to earn it is through a team
approach that supports employees when they run into problems.
a goose is sick, two other geese will stay with it until it gets
— or dies," says Reeves. This sense that each member of the
company will be cared for, whether he is up against a sales slump
or a family emergency, creates a feeling of security that can
into a willingness to put in extraordinary effort when the company
itself runs into choppy water.
- Reeves says employees working in an atmosphere with strong
values will indeed put each other — and the company — ahead
of personal convenience. As an example, she points to the time when
she was general manager of a cable television office in Hamilton in
the days before digital, when TV set-top converter boxes were less
sophisticated than they are now. "They were controlled by
she recalls. The Hamilton office had just installed a new computer,
and it malfunctioned, cutting off television reception to 12,000
"I got a call at midnight from the tech manager," she says.
"The only way it could be fixed was to have each customer call
in and read us the serial number on the back of his converter
Knowing 12,000 unhappy people soon would be calling an office that
normally received about 200 calls a day, Reeves called all of her
managers and asked them to come in to work by 7 a.m. "They all
did," she says.
During two days of non-stop calls, employees from other departments
volunteered to pitch in. "The studio people said `Our work can
be postponed. We can help,’" she says. Camaraderie arose quickly
and spontaneously, and Reeves is convinced the reason was a
atmosphere where teamwork was valued.
Much as she learned about teamwork in the Peace Corps and in corporate
America, Reeves says the roots of her belief in its effectiveness
go even deeper. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Reeves recalls
her father, a wholesale grocer, talking about "the importance
of families sticking together." Vital for families — whether
made up of humans or of geese — teamwork is also an essential
for successful companies.
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