14 May 2009

When A Team Gels: A Motorcycle Powerband

When a team gels, there's nothing like it. Explaining it does no use - it only sounds like a cliche or bad sports metaphor. But there's no mistaking the sensation you get. Not to mention the hyper productivity.

What it reminds me of most - me with my "overactive imagination" as Mr Ryan, my 4th grade teacher would say - ahem - what it reminds me of most is hitting the powerband on a motorcycle. Bear with me! I can bring this baby in to land.

Now this, I think I can explain. When you open up the throttle on a decent motorbike, the engine goes faster and obviously the bike accelerates. But (depending on lots of engine-type stuff) there can often be a point in the speed of the engine where several things come together at once, and you learn that once the revs reach a familiar resonance through the body of the bike, what was an ineffectual buzz only a moment ago transforms into a surge of forward force that teleports you down the road - wherever you point the thing - at a whole new category of fast. Instinctively you pull against this force as it threatens to rip your arms off and you become one with the machine, the front wheel unweighting and your face an immutable smile. It's like magic, but of course, it's just physics.

This gratuitous metaphor got me thinking about the "physics" of a team gelling and what factors contribute to it. Then I realised the metaphor goes even further.

In a team, the sensation of things starting to "gel" is a categorical transition. Team members anticipate each other's needs, they are able to judge the relative priority of each others goals and they can correct the natural misunderstandings that happen in all communication with greater speed and less fuss. The communication, the routines, the knowlege each member has of the others, it all starts working together.

I'm not going to put my amateur psychologist hat on (you know I've got one), but it struck me that this feature of the interactions between team members is very like a fluid dynamics scenario. It's complex and chaotic and all that, but under certain conditions, all the ins and outs and vortices and what not stop working against each other and find a kind of harmony.

Well guess what? That fluid dynamics scenario is literally what's happening in the engine as the motorcycle hits the power band. The timing of the fuel and air flowing into the engine, the combustion rates, temperature and pressure changes, exhaust speed, the lengths and volumes and shapes of each part of the whole breathing system work together more and against each other less.

So if you've never worked in a team that gelled (believe me you'll know if you have) then keep working towards it. Either that or get yourself a motorbike.

1 comment:

  1. Great comparison with the bike (to me, anyway), but unfortunately If you've never ridden a powerful 4-stroke or one of the earlier 2-stroke hooligan machines that was all or nothing, then some people may miss the 'gel' factor.