To boldly go – een verhaal over samenwerking

(Vorige week nam ik met twee collega-coaches afscheid bij de organisatie waar ik een half jaar heb meegeholpen bij de organisatieverandering daar. Voor de kenners: de organisatie is steeds meer agile aan het worden. Binnen de teams is al veel bereikt. De volgende stap die nu gezet wordt gaat over het samenwerken over teams heen. Dat gaat natuurlijk met de nodige ups en downs.
Dit verhaal vertelden wij drieën bij ons afscheid.)

To boldly go…
Decades ago
More than 25 years ago, I worked with an IT-company at some projects for the European Space Agency. Scientists and technicians from all over Europe were cooperating in space science and space travel. In the 1960’s France, the UK and Germany had had their own space programs, but since the 1970’s Europe had combined efforts into ESA. At that time the Soviet Union already had their Salyut and Mir space stations and the United States had Skylab. These endeavors, of course, were fuelled by the heavy competition between the two super powers during the Cold War. And so Europe was planning to have their own. Quite some rockets had been launched and numerous satellites brought into orbit. When I was around at ESA in Noordwijk, I saw mockups of Hermes, the European space shuttle to-be, and Columbus, a manned space station that was being built.
As an aside, you hear nice stories when you are with the experts. One that was told over and again was about expensive research at NASA to come to a ballpoint pen that would work in zero-gravity. Innovative pump systems were invented and tons of dollars spent. Once during a site visit in Baikonur, the Americans proudly told about this work. To which the Russians replied: “Ah, yes, we also had to overcome that challenge. We now use pencils.” Now, as an agile coach, I still like the story. It’s about simplicity and using the smallest thing that could possibly work.
Back to Europe’s efforts to get men into space. Even though the European cooperation resulted in highly technologically advanced systems, just like the spacecraft of the Soviets and the Americans, they were limited monoliths. Although they had been redesigned and adapted over their lifetime, they did not outgrow their basic limitations: they were fitting for a small crew carrying out a limited number of experiments.

The present
Hermes never flew, and Columbus went through quite some redesigns, because of huge changes. The Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union ceased to be. In the United States a year-long political struggle to get a new space station, Freedom, off the ground had not been successful. And so, in the 1990’s the US, Russia and, later, Europe and Japan started to collaborate on a new mission: to build a new International Space Station. This ISS is still in orbit. It could never have been accomplished by any single country on its own. From the outset ISS had a modular design, which allowed for changing the mission over time. New components have been added over the years and old ones have been replaced. Some parts were brought up by Russian rockets, some by the Space Shuttle.
Do you think all went smoothly? Imagine all political fights that had to be overcome! Imagine all technological challenges that needed to be overcome! Yet, a common vision and solid cooperation got us where we are now: astronauts from numerous countries have manned the ISS, thousands of experiments were carried out and loads of new developments resulted from this joint effort. Imagine where such cooperation could bring mankind… Plans are already being made to bring man to Mars.
But let’s be honest. This is not a fairytale where all lived happily ever after. Actually, at this very moment, political tensions are on the rise again between America and Russia. Russia, sole provider of launchers to the ISS, has announced that it will end transporting Americans by 2020. No one knows what this will mean for the ISS as a truly worldwide collaborative project. We can only hope that it will not end here.

Centuries from now
Centuries from now, on the starship USS Enterprise, Jean Luc Picard faces a dilemma. Their destination is a newly discovered solar system. The Federation, a collaboration of worlds throughout the universe, is always on the lookout for new civilizations – boldly going where no one has gone before. Yet, their destination may be clear, there is a black hole in the way. Is it safe to go through it or should they go around it, which would cause a lot of delay?
Picard calls all expert officers to his office, asks for their arguments and listens to their discussion. Everyone brings their expertise. How to heat the warp core and what are the risks of going through such a gravity field? How much sleep deprivation the crew can take and how it will affect their behavior? Will the protective shields hold the enormous forces? After hearing their arguments, Picard makes his decision and ends with the famous words: “Make it so”. No detailed commands. He trusts each team to know how to carry out their responsibility. He knows the teams will collaborate where necessary. He knows failures may occur, but escalation lines are short, so recovery actions can be taken as soon as required.
Of course, cooperation can take other forms, as exemplified by the Borg. They are very powerful too. But they are deprived of individual creativity and emotions, relations and drives. Therefore, time and again they loose from the Federation. To end with another Picard quote: “Buried deep within you, there is the potential to make yourself a better man. And that is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are.”