I was born in a small mining town in the south of Holland. The undulating landscapes around Maastricht were the home to many thousands of coal miners from 1899 towards 1974. Today all Dutch mines are closed. The miners were known as “Koempels”, an endearing German word meaning “Boys” and it was not a randomly chosen name.
Work in the mines was dangerous. Each year an average of 16 Koempels died, others were injured, blinded, disabled and all with little hope of a long life due to dust. There was nothing romantic in that hard and short life. But these workers had something that all companies seek and that today’s employees do not have: the feeling of belonging, satisfaction of their work, trust and mutual respect and, as a result, a great capacity for collaboration.
You will say that this is something that belongs to a distant past. Yes, it belongs to the past because the latest Gallup study (State of the Global Workplace, 2017) says that currently less than 10% of European employees feel “involved” in what they do. They do not feel belonging and mistrust their organization and their leaders. It is a catastrophic fact considering that the sum of the companies needs that their employees collaborate in the traditional and increasingly transversal way. It also highlights a monumental failure of leadership and shows the millions of euros in leadership training, collaboration and internal communication thrown away. Something fails evidently. But what?
Is there a “magic formula” to leadership and high team performance?
Probably not. But there are things that improve the result. Let’s analyze the old case of the miners. The coal mines were governed by shared Roman Catholic values (they had values). The owners were no saints, but they had a clear framework of behavior. They understood that their success depended on their ability to generate trust and mutual respect so that their miners felt encouraged to communicate well and collaborate with each other. They understood that failures cost production (and lives) so it was essential to make them focus on their work (clear objectives and defined roles).
These were low-income societies where the basics were lacking. So the owners built good houses, schools, also for the miners (Continuing Education), medical centers and even an orphanage. The miners further knew that their families would be taken care of if something happened to them. Covered their basic needs and concerns, the “masters” began to create and encourage contacts through sports clubs (gymnastics, soccer …) and music (harmonies and bands) and even built large pools and meeting centers. The “internal communication strategy” was direct, personal and involving. The Catholic Church agglutinated everything in a jealous way. And it worked.
There was more. If you compare the above, you will see that it does not differ much in what today is the work philosophy of military elite corps such as the Navy Seals. They reach a 100% cohesion and feeling of belonging and trust in their leaders. Like the foremen in the mines of the time, ALL their leaders (from top to bottom) are hyper accessible, very transparent and communicative. They manage to gain the confidence of their people because they say what they are going to do and do what they say.
The other 10% is unacceptable and surmountable; there are different solutions to “always” and we explore them continuously.
An example of transgressive new ways is the usage of horses, for example. In Europe, we are leaders in the usage of such tools.