What we can learn from geese about Teamwork

Being A Good Goose
by Charles MacInerney

Growth, in my personal experience, usually comes in bursts, interspersed with slower periods of rest, contemplation and integration. So it is that I find myself once again reaching back to my most recent period of growth, the 1994 National Wellness Conference in Wisconsin, to share with you another personal experience that helped me grow.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., who spoke about his teacher, a Hawaiian healer who uses love and intimacy to heal his patients. At the closing ceremony he shared a true story of a man he had met whom he called “Father Goose.”

Father Goose raised a flock of geese from eggs. The flock imprinted on him as their mother, and followed him everywhere. Unfortunately, by modeling themselves on a human they did not learn how to fly. Father Goose would run through the fields flapping his arms, and his flock would run along behind him flapping their wings, but neither he nor his birds got off of the ground. Then, in a moment of inspiration, he bought an ultra-light plane and with the flock in hot pursuit Father Goose took to the air. The entire flock followed him up into the sky and formed a perfect “V” behind him.

Father Goose then led his flock on it’s first migration. This gave him a unique opportunity to study the social dynamics of geese. Paul Pearsall then shared a few of Father Goose’s observations. There are five rules of being a good goose.

1) Flocks of geese fly in a “V” formation because it is the most aerodynamically efficient formation for the flock as a whole. The beat of the leader’s wings creates a pressure wave to either side, which the two following geese ride like surfers, and with a beat of their own wings, they add a little more energy to the wave and pass it on to the goose behind.

2) When a goose moves out of formation, it immediately senses the loss of efficiency for the group and adjusts.

3) There is no real leader. When the lead goose gets tired, it drops back and another goose which is rested steps up to the more demanding position.

4) Geese constantly encourage the leader and each other while in flight. When geese honk, they are not saying hurry up, or get out of my way! Instead they are saying, “We are right behind you, and we appreciate the fine job you are doing.”

5) When a goose drops out of formation and goes down, due to injury or sickness, two geese follow it down. They stay with it guarding and foraging for food, until it is recovered or dead, and then they rejoin the formation.

Paul Pearsall talked of many things and then he closed by teaching us the first four steps of the hula. Then the conference was over, and it was time to return to Texas.

My flight out of Wau Sau was on a small plane that was taken up almost entirely by conference participants. By the time we landed at Chicago we felt and acted like an extended family. We talked, laughed, and called out to each other, exchanging addresses and phone numbers. Then the Chicago airport swallowed us up in a world of rushing frightened people with hard faces and eyes. We alone it seemed were enjoying our selves as we passed through the crowded terminal.

The isolation and fear in the faces of the strangers surrounding us made us appreciate each other even more. The bag I was carrying was heavy and awkward. As I struggled along through the airport, one of my newfound friends, came up alongside me. “Let me help you with your bag,” she suggested. I knew that it was too heavy for her and declined her offer after thanking her. “Let me help you with your bag,” she repeated, looking at me intently. With an air of resignation, I set down the bag on the ground for her to try to pick up.

She bent over, picked up one handle and stood there smiling. Much chagrined, I picked up the other handle, and, swinging the bag lightly between us, we set off. I called out, “The fifth rule of being a good goose!” and from in front and behind us I heard a chorus of honks from my fellow geese, encouraging the first goose who was forcing a way through the crowded airport. Immediately a wide swath opened up the crowds of travelers before and around us to let us pass through the airport with ease.