Why great teams fly like geese

The below blog post was written by Rochelle Dancel, founding member of Bats in Belfries, and it struck such a chord with me that I just had to share it with you (with her permission of course!).

It is such a fantastic, simple analogy that will really help you to define which role you currently play in your team. For success to happen everyone needs to play their part – whether you are the goose leading to the geese on the outside supporting the rest of the team. The key is that the team needs to be adaptable and be willing to shift the roles to play to people’s strengths so that success can be achieved.

As Rochelle says,’I have yet to meet or be in a team where this analogy didn’t work or couldn’t be applied’.

I do wonder though how many Managers have the willingness to use this method….because I’ve certainly not been in a team where this has been applied….


I made this analogy in passing today, and I don’t think I explained it very well, so I thought I’d blog it instead.

I should disclaim this first by saying that I don’t genuinely know how and why geese fly in a v formation; however, this is how it was described to me years ago and, when applied to teams, the analogy stuck with me, so here it is:

It may seem like the goose leading the v is the most important, but actually, in order for the geese to get to where they need to go, each goose has to play its part.

The job of the goose at the front is to cut the wind for everyone else. Because of this, they have the most difficult job, flying into the wind.

The geese behind are really loud as it’s their job to make as much noise as possible to support the goose at the front.

The goose at the front will inevitably get tired, so will drop back into the formation and let another goose move forward to take their place, and then the rest of the geese will support the new leader goose. Likewise, the geese that fly to the extreme of the formation will also get tired, so they need to move to the middle of the formation where it is easier, and other geese will take their place.

By now, you should’ve gotten this analogy.

I often think of one of my old teams in this way. My boss at the time told us that it was her job to help remove the obstacles that were stopping us from doing our jobs effectively, because no one did our jobs better than we did. Equally, we worked very hard to make sure that she could report positively on the department’s performance, recognising that, apart from being super lucky to have such a manager, if she looked good, we all looked good together.

The goose that needs to be in front isn’t always the most senior
Given shifting priorities and organisational focus, the person best suited to leading a particular project needs to be out in front – and the rest of the team needs to support them. Priorities – and their project leaders – may change, but supporting the person in front is to everyone’s benefit.

The goose in front needs to be strong to get the rest of the flock to the destination
If you’re out in front but you need support, or you need a break, don’t be afraid to say so, and support someone else in coming forward.

The geese in the middle may be called upon to lead
Make sure you’re ready, in case you need to step up. Equally, the flock needs to ensure that the people in the middle of the team are trained and capable of moving up when the time comes.

Don’t forget the geese on the outside
In every team there are people that sit on the fringes of the core for any number of reasons: they work different hours, they have a skillset that no one else understands or they have a workplan that isn’t as integrated as everyone else’s. They need support too, so be sure to pull them in closer every once in a while.

If the flock stays in formation, the flock arrives together
Success for the whole team only happens if everyone plays their part.

I have yet to meet or be in a team where this analogy didn’t work or couldn’t be applied.

Happy flying!

*artwork by Penny Parker

Managing Risk and Reputation

I attended a Brand Breakfast this morning on Managing Risk and Reputation, which was kindly hosted by the British Red Cross. Brand Breakfast is a quarterly event organised by Dan Dufour and Serena Donne and is supported by CharityComms.

In this age of social media where brands are more exposed than ever before, it is increasingly important to manage the risks that threaten your reputation.

The first speaker was Jill McCall from Cadbury who gave us this sage advice.

You need to build a brand that can withstand crisis.

Jill spoke a lot about heritage and how the brands that people trust are the ones whose employees live and embody the values of the company.

She also spoke about the Halo and Horns effect and how we think of brands as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ – we assign a personality to the brand.

Adrian Thomas, Head of External Relations at the British Red Cross, shared case studies with us about how they have managed risk and reputation. One example was how they were accused of ‘cancelling Christmas‘ because they don’t stock religious Christmas cards in their shops and how they turned ‘pantogate’ around by using their blog, and other platforms, to explain why it is so important for them as an organisation to be neutral.

So what did I take away from this seminar?

1. An open, honest culture is essential

2. Staff should be comfortable to highlight risks, which should be acted upon

3. When a crisis hits, be open, honest and responsive. Most of all, be human.

4. Good relationships with journalists can help weather the storm in times of crisis

5. Apologise, if needed.

Whatever you do, never do this…

If it stinks, put a lid on it

You can read the Storify of the Brand Breakfast here.

Developing a Communications Strategy

I attended a Communications Strategy and Planning seminar a couple of weeks ago where Joe Barrell from Eden Stanley spoke about developing a communications strategy for a non-profit. Joe is working with CharityComms to put together a Best Practice guide that will not only define what a communications strategy is but will also set out how to go about developing one.

My experience of working in small charities, and speaking to people in my Sole Comms group, is that not only do we often lack the time and resources to put into place a communications strategy, but often we lack the skills too so I am really pleased that this guide will go beyond just the theory.

You can read my Storify of the seminar here, which also included a presentation from Emma Harrison, Director of External Relations at Mencap, who presented ‘Towards an Integrated Approach at Mencap.’

Here are the five things I took away:

1. Keep it simple – your communications strategy should be clear, concise and memorable. It needs to say who you are communicating with, through which channels, what your message is and what you want your audience to think, feel or do about it.

2. Define your audiences – you cannot develop a communications strategy if you don’t know who you are talking to. Spend some time working on your audience persona’s and don’t generalise. The charities who communicate successfully are the ones who truly know their audiences and who build their strategy around audiences, not channels.

3. Get your messaging right – once you have defined your audiences, break down your objectives into relevant messages for each of those audiences. Tone of voice and style may change for each audience but your messaging should always have continuity and link back to core organisational objectives.

4. Define your channels – which channels (email, social media, PR etc) will be the most effective in reaching your defined audiences? There will probably be several for each audience type.

5. Measure and evaluate– make sure your objectives are measurable and define the tools that you will use to evaluate your success.

Helpful resources:

Developing a Communications Strategy by Knowhow NonProfit

Mission Critical: Crafting your Communications Strategy by CharityComms