Archived Story

Opinion: State’s geese hold lessons for the small business

Published 4:52am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Dean Swanson

SCORE Director

What can your business learn from a goose? I read a business posting this week by Barry Moltz, who runs a business called Your Business Unstuck. His post reminded me of my science teacher days and book I read many years ago. He quoted some material from a book written back in 1972 by Robert McNeish who served as associate superintendent of Baltimore Public Schools. McNeish’s book was simply titled “Lessons from the Geese.”

It contained a wonderful metaphor that can be applied to organizations and businesses. I will share five lessons for the small business that come from flying geese. Their migration is an awesome sight and southeast Minnesota is a great place to watch them.

There is an interdependence in the way geese function. The next time you see that “V” of geese, think about your business and what you can learn.

Fact 1

As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an “uplift” for the bird following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Business lesson: In business, team members that share a strong sense of community can reach company goals more quickly. This is where a company’s culture really supports the type of teamwork that gets excellent results.

Fact 2

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone. It quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the “lifting power” of the bird immediately in front.

Business lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go.

Fact 3

When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose moves up and flies at the point position.

Business lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. People in business, as with geese, are interdependent with each other.

Fact 4

Listen. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Business lesson: We need to make sure our “honking” from behind is encouraging and cheering on the team, not something less helpful.

Fact 5

When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation to follow him or her down to help and protect. They stay with the downed goose until he or she is either able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own with another formation or catch up with their flock.

Business lesson: In a true team environment, other staff members share the burden of leading or accomplishing the more difficult tasks, when necessary. This is where cross training of team members becomes so important. In addition, as company and personal lives merge, small businesses have the responsibility to care for their employees even when they are sick. This is done through reasonable time off for illness and short term disability policies.

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