Watching the take-off roll of a Boeing 747 as it rumbles its massive structure down the runway has always stopped me in my tracks. Even though I fully understand the principles of flight and have operated them myself over thousands of flying hours, watching the massive beast that is the B747 leave the earth and fly will always be one of the most awe-inspiring examples of physics to me. Its immense size makes it look slow compared to smaller aircraft and heaving a potential 412,000 kgs into the air seems improbable, regardless of how much I understand the principles. At its maximum capacity, a B747 may weigh the equivalent of 35 double-decker buses.
Regardless of the size and weight of an aircraft, the moment of take-off requires that thrust from the engines must overcome the inertia of the aircraft enough to propel it down the runway. That thrust must further overcome the drag created by the moving airframe, allowing the aircraft to gather speed so that the airflow over the wings creates lift – enough lift to overcome the combined weight of the aircraft, gravity, and the pressure of the atmosphere on the airframe, allowing the aircraft to fly.
It’s a feat that never loses its impact on me.
It’s an equation of forward momentum so important that every possible interference must be mitigated or avoided. Runways must be clear of debris, birds, animals, and traffic. Airframes must be clean and capable. Calculations of weight, speed, and runway length must be accurate. Pilots must be focused, in agreement, and well-practiced. Even then, they must also be ready to deal with any possible influence that might threaten the take-off process. It’s a delicate balance of decades of science, operated with the experience, readiness, reflexes, and agility of the human spirit. Flight is incredible. It speaks of a combined intention to overcome.
Creating Forward Momentum In Teams
In the realm of teamwork and collaboration, the most productive teams share a common trait: they pull in the same direction. They understand the importance of focusing on their agreed-upon goals, avoiding distractions, and resolving their combined strengths. To grasp the significance of this alignment, it’s worth understanding how the same principles that affect the take-off ability of an aircraft apply to the effective forward movement of any team of people – the principle of vectors.
The Concept of Vectors:
In physics, vectors represent both the magnitude and direction of a force. A force that only has one direction to act in and no opposition will have all its energy available to accomplish the greatest end result. Energy spent in different or opposing directions weakens the end result, and this applies as much to team dynamics as it does to aviation.
Within a team, each member brings unique skills, knowledge, and energy. When these individual strengths or vectors align towards a common goal, their combined force becomes exponentially more powerful. Any misalignment of resources, understanding, commitment or focus detracts from the end result. When everyone combines their strengths and energy to make sure they’re operating in a well-assessed environment with adequate resources and prior planning, their synchronized movements pull in the same direction, harnessing their full potential and maximizing their productivity.
There is seldom a scenario in aviation or in business where there aren’t threats to be considered, resources planned, and discussions about how best to achieve an outcome. These are the steps we take to mitigate distractions or anything else that could take away from our combined forward momentum. In any team, these steps require open discussion, and respectful acknowledgment of strengths, resources, and potential threats – which include our own weaknesses.
Energy Leak due to Distractions:
One of the major challenges that teams face is the amount of energy that leaks due to distractions. Distractions can take various forms, such as competing priorities, personal agendas, or external disruptions. When team members allow these distractions to divert their focus and energy away from their agreed-upon goals, the team’s overall productivity suffers. It is akin to applying force in different directions simultaneously, resulting in scattered efforts and diminished outcomes. It would be the equivalent of a pilot striking up a random conversation halfway down the take-off roll, or the failure of the crew to check that the airframe of the aircraft was clean and serviceable before operating it.
By recognizing and actively mitigating distractions, teams can maintain alignment and direct their energy toward the desired target, ensuring their efforts are concentrated and effective. Sometimes, this is as easy as having a conversation about the different ways people in the team may see to accomplish the task, and finding how best to combine their strengths so that they’re not working at odds or distracted by their differences.
Resolving Combined Strengths:
Another aspect of alignment within teams is the need to resolve combined strengths rather than allowing them to create internal conflicts. Each team member possesses unique abilities, experiences, and perspectives that contribute to the collective strength of the team. However, if these strengths are not properly harnessed and integrated, they can lead to fragmentation and a lack of cohesion. In the context of vectors, unresolved combined strengths resemble forces pulling in different directions, resulting in a weakened overall force. Productive teams understand the importance of recognizing and valuing diverse strengths while actively working to integrate them harmoniously. By leveraging the complementary abilities of team members, conflicts are minimized, and the team can operate with a unified and amplified force.
Creating a Goal-Oriented Environment:
To facilitate alignment within a team, it is essential to establish a goal-oriented environment. This involves clearly defining and communicating shared objectives, ensuring that all team members have a common understanding of the desired outcome. When everyone is aware of the team’s direction and purpose, they can align their efforts and work synergistically towards the same goals. This is why flight crews brief together before each flight, making sure they all see the big picture and the part of it that they are responsible for. This is why roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and practiced in a cockpit so that there can be no misunderstandings or gaps.
In the context of vectors, a goal-oriented environment provides a consistent direction for individual vectors to converge, resulting in a cumulative and focused force. No energy is wasted by misdirection. Additionally, setting milestones and celebrating achievements along the way helps to maintain motivation and reinforce alignment.
The Power of Alignment:
The power of alignment within teams is undeniable. By drawing parallels with the principles involved in making the largest of aircraft fly, we can grasp the importance of pulling in the same direction and focusing on agreed-upon goals. Teams that successfully align their energies achieve heightened productivity, efficiency, and success. By acknowledging and mitigating distractions, and by resolving and integrating combined strengths, teams can overcome internal conflicts and build a collaborative and cohesive work environment. Ultimately, by aligning their individual vectors toward shared objectives, teams unleash their collective potential and accomplish remarkable outcomes.
by Christen Killick
June 26th, 2023